From the day that Buffy the cat accidentally got her wings to the adventures with the flying mice, things had been rather hectic for Serena. So when Serena awoke late in the morning and found the cat wasn't sleeping on the pillow beside her, she began to worry. Usually, the village's temple bell would have woken her by now. In Serena's haste to get cleaned up and dressed, a simple spell went awry -- they often did -- but at least this time the entire bedroom looked quite clean. She'd had worse disasters.
Her mother was making breakfast and yawned a couple times. The older woman smiled, looked around, and frowned.
"Where is she?"
"I don't know."
"Eat quickly and go find the little troublemaker."
"Yes, mom," she agreed fervently. Serena ate the delicious food and tried not to worry. Buffy couldn't have gotten into much trouble, she decided. After all, no one was pounding at the door.
Stepping outside brought a sigh of dismay. Selena had been so unsettled by the cat's disappearance that she hadn't so much as glanced out a window. She walked out into a cold wind and the sight of towering clouds where they grew at the edge of land and sea.
"Buffy!" she shouted hoping the cat would pop up from the brushes or sweep down from the trees. Selena even waited a moment before she took a deep breath, pulled her cloak around her, and headed down the hill toward the village.
The clouds bothered her.
So did the quiet of the village nestled down the hillside and close to the shore. With a new wave of worry -- What had Buffy done now! -- she hurried along the path and into the town.
No one around. Nothing moved, not even a stray dog to bark at her or beg for treats. For a moment, she thought they were all gone, but she soon found dogs, birds, horses, and even people. They were all asleep.
Sleeping villages were never the sign of anything good.
Serena spun and rushed back toward home, but at the edge of the village she stopped and threw herself to the side of the building. Something was moving -- something substantial that cast wavering shadows and yet did not make the ground shake. And the thing whispered and whispered --
No. They whispered The odd shadow had sorted itself out into three shadows of women, their long hair floating in the breeze off the shore. The clouds had stopped growing so high, but they moved even more oddly now, forming a stairstep effect that brought them all the way down to the ground.
Serena dared a look around the side of the building.
"Someone saw us!" one of the women all but shouted.
"Quiet you fool! Any loud noise could wake them! Where was the person?"
"This way, I think," one of them whispered.
Serena had to act quickly. The silence made much movement difficult, but she slid back along the edge of the building, hoping that she sounded no different than the breeze. Serena found the doorway to the warehouse and there found a few men gathered and asleep. She settled beside them. She bowed her head and pretended to sleep.
The three women rushed past. She dared a slight slitting of her eyes for a brief heartbeat. Even at that moment, one of the women looked back, but Serena had not moved, she closed her eyes, and took soft even breaths, pretending to sleep. She'd done so for her mother often enough.
"Nothing here," one of them whispered. "Let's get the babies and go. We have many more stops before we have enough to train up for our legions. Lucky their magic woman lives outside the village."
Then they disappeared around the corner.
Stealing children! Serena sat up and prepared to run to her mother for help -- but then she realized she might never get that far, or might not get there fast enough. It was up to her, the person who could never get a spell right!
No, not just her. A small shaped appeared at the end of the alley, saw her, and leapt into Serena's lap.
"Couldn't wake you," Buffy whispered in her ear. She purred too. "I don't like these women. I don't understand what they want."
"To steal the babies! We have to find a way to stop them. I can't do it alone, and I can't get to mom fast enough. Can you?"
Buffy looked around. "No. I don't think so. We need the others in town."
"I fear if I went around yelling, they'd just put me back to sleep," Serena said. "We need a loud noise to wake them."
"Loud noise?" Buffy said. Her blue eyes widened for a moment. "I know the answer. Follow them. Make sure they don't get away with any babies."
Before Serena could ask, Buffy went bounding off. Cats were naturally quiet. Serena was not, but she did her best, following the faint sounds the three strange women made. What could Buffy possibly have in mind?
She almost came within sight of the women and stopped in haste when she realized she could hear them whispering only a few yards away. Her heart beat so hard she feared they would even hear it.
"Get the baby. The spell won't last forever!"
"I thought I heard --"
"Just get the child --"
And then they all heard something.
The dozen different bells of the temple, never rung all at once, began to ring, first one, then two, then more --
People, dogs, cats, birds -- all began to wake. The women screamed as Serena rushed at them and one carrying a baby threw it to her -- she barely caught the child, but by then the three women had disappeared.
Later, the townspeople gathered to thank Serena, but she couldn't take the credit this time.
"It wasn't me with the bells," Serena admitted. "Buffy did it."