After that was an English class that might have been more compelling if Buffy had actually read the Wordsworth poem under discussion, and a math class that bore a more-than-passing resemblance to gibberish. Buffy generally did fine at math, but Mr. Liegey was quite simply the world's most boring human, and he managed to make every problem look impossible and ridiculous.
After that, though, she was free. The next two periods were lunch and study hall, both of which could be spent in the library, and the classes after that were cancelled for seniors, so they could go to the stupid Ring Day assembly.
Buffy and Willow headed from math to their lockers to drop off their books, then intending to go library-ward for quality research time. Buffy wanted to know what the deal was with this Russian woman who showed up right when someone from Russia was warning Giles about the resurrection of a Russian sorcerer. They needed to be rushin' to find out what was going on.
Oh God, I've been hanging around Xander way too long...
Oz joined the girls as they were depositing schoolbooks into their respective lockers. Next to them, J.D. Brodsky and Maria DeMatteo were gabbing.
"So, you gettin' a ring?"
"Duh! You think I wasted four years of my life to not get a ring?"
"I heard Jonathan wasn't gettin' one."
"Yeah, but Jonathan, like, wallows in lameness. His loserdom is well documented, so of course he isn't getting one."
J.D. and Maria walked off. Buffy sighed and had to restrain herself from slamming her locker shut. Last time she did that, she broke it, and then had to listen to Snyder harangue her about damaging school equipment. The locker still didn't close right.
Willow had her sad face on. "I'm sorry, Buffy. If it makes you feel any better, I don't think you're a loser."
"That makes one of you."
Buffy looked up to see Cordelia approaching.
"Let me guess," Cordy went on, "none of you are getting a ring?"
Willow suddenly brightened. "I am! I think I'm gonna get a silver one. See, then I can use it to help with spells, 'cause you can channel magic with silver. You can't do that with gold. Besides, you know, there's the whole cheaper thing."
Oz shrugged. "I had the chance last year, but it throws off the strumming. Besides, Ring Day's Monday."
At first Buffy was confused, then she remembered that Monday was the night after the next full moon. The Ring Day ceremony began after school, and, since it was February, it was likely to get dark before it was all over. Having one of the seniors turn into a werewolf in the middle of the ceremony was probably high on Snyder's list of things he didn't want happening, and getting stampeded or shot five minutes later was probably high on Oz's.
Cordelia flashed her best I'm-so-much-better-than-you smile. "Well, it's nothing but eighteen karats for this girl."
With that, she walked off.
Oz regarded her retreating form. "She does know how to darken up a room, doesn't she?"
Willow had gone back to sad face mode. "I'm sorry you can't get one."
"It's no big," Buffy said, even though it was. "Mom just can't afford it. The gallery's not doing as well as she'd like this year, and the repairs for the house after my welcome-home party were pretty steep."
They started walking down the hall toward the library, only to see Xander zipping toward them. "Hey, Xander," Buffy said.
"Hi Buff, hi Will, hi Oz. Gotta go."
"Where's the fire?"
"No fire, just have some things to take care of." He gave a thumbs-up gesture. "Gotta be ready for Ring Day, am I right?"
"You're getting a ring?" Willow asked, sounding surprised.
"Of course! You won't be seeing Xander Harris lumped in with the losers and the ne'er-do-wells and the people who get made fun of. Those days are in the past, my good friends. And with that, I go."
Xander turned and walked briskly down the hall.
Willow gazed after him. "He's been acting strange ever since he started driving his uncle's car. And I'm surprised he's getting a ring. His parents don't usually pay for that kind of thing, and it's not like Xander can afford it himself."
Buffy let out a breath. "A problem for a time that is other. For now, it's on with the research."
Nodding, Willow said, "Right." Now it was the infamous resolve face, and all three of them proceeded to the library.
When Willow made that rather disturbing pronouncement, Buffy was idly flipping through the pile of woodcut illustrations that that Russian guy had sent Giles by way of avoiding math homework. The librarian himself was at the main desk, performing that rarest of duties, aiding a student who needed a book for a class.
Buffy got up and stood behind Willow, who sat at the table, her laptop resting atop it, three wires sticking out. One went to the outlet in the wall, one to the mouse that was on the pad next to the laptop, and the other to the phone jack.
"I really don't like the sound of 'weird,'" Buffy said.
Oz was sitting next to Willow and added, "Well, it's a relative term."
"Right now," Willow said, "we're still in 'I'm confused' weird, not 'This is going to strangle us in our sleep' weird." She pointed at the Internet browser screen she had up. "I only found one Dryanushkina, and her first name's Yulia."
"Perfect," Buffy said with a nod.
Pointing at the laptop screen, Willow said, "That's her driver's license."
Buffy peered at the screen. "Right address, too. 123 Guterman. So far, so good."
"That's not the weird part." Willow maximized another window with the mouse, which overlayed the previous one. It showed a newspaper article discussing the abandoning of a construction project on Guterman Drive.
Reading aloud from the article, Buffy said, "'The Clancy Construction Company has announced that all work has ceased on the 123 Condominium Project, which was to be constructed at that address on Guterman Drive on a lot that has been abandoned for over thirty years.'" Buffy looked at the date of the article. "This is from two months ago."
"And note the picture," Oz said.
Buffy did so. It was a long view of a vacant lot, big enough to show the house that had been to the left of the Dryanushkina residence, as well as the corner of Palombo Court.
"I'm not exactly an expert," Oz said, "but doesn't it take longer than two months to build a split-level?"
"Not to mention seed an entire yard." Buffy pointed at the picture, specifically the dirt that made up most of the vacant lot. "Our lady's house had a manicured lawn. In fact, that lawn had a pedicure and a facial."
Willow frowned. "Buffy, you said the house looked like every other house in town, right?"
"Yeah, right out of Sunnydale Homes and Gardens. Why?"
"A good illusion spell will show what the viewer expects to see."
Giles, who had finished with the student and had been listening in, wandered over. "Willow is correct. The most likely explanation for the disparity between what you and Faith saw last night and those photographs from two months ago is a very sophisticated illusion spell."
Buffy gave Giles a look. "I got that from what Willow said, and she used a lot fewer words."
"Er, yes." Giles took off his glasses and started wiping them. "In any case, I think it would be best if you investigated that house--or lot, or whatever it might be--in daylight."
"Then to Guterman Drive we shall go." Buffy then let out a very long sigh. "After Snyder's assembly."
"I believe the assembly has something to do with the ring ceremony," Giles said.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's an excuse to miss chemistry and Spanish. All else is gravy."
Turning to Willow, the Slayer said, "Yeah, Will?"
Willow had her ooh-ick face on. "I just checked--Yulia Dryanushkina's a retired substitute teacher. Just like Ms. French was."
Closing her eyes, Buffy exhaled slowly through her teeth, then walked over to the cage.
Giles looked confused. "Buffy, what are you--"
"I'm getting a machete, Giles. It's another praying mantis, I'm sure of it."
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