Cordy stood in the hallway after purity class, stalling for a chance to have actual conversation with some of the girls, especially the two leaders, Tracey and Karen. She sniffed. Ick. Don't ever sniff in the hall again. She smelled cheap soap, pencil shavings, that gummy disinfectant, and distantly, onions. There were only five other girls in the class, and three of them pooled in a little hesitant group around Cordy. The tall one was Tracey. She had her hair cut in an unfortunate bob which showed too much of her long neck, giving her an ostrich-like gawkiness, especially combined with her slightly bulging eyes. Needs hair, thought Cordy, hair and an introduction to mascara would completely change her look. Karen was shorter, stouter, too, with muscular forearms, but she had that rare combination of brown eyes and red hair. The right colors-
"So, where are you from?" asked Tracey.
"Sunnydale," said Cordy without thinking, then decided to go with it. What the Hell. None of these repressed bible bangers ever heard of Sunnydale.
"You mean, the Hellmouth?" asked the redhead, Karen.
Tracey glared at Cordy. "All you people are infected, you know,"
"Wha-WHAT?" Cordy hadn't been taken by surprise in a high school conversation since Harmony publicly turned on her for dating Xander.
"Infected. Evil is like a virus. You'd know that if you took the intro courses for Purity class,"
Cordy recovered. "Well, I'd like to catch up. Maybe you guys could help me. And anyway, why do you think we LEFT Sunnydale?"
Two more girls, who had been shuffling at a distance, came in closer to hear the conversation. They stared at her speculatively. Ordinarily Cordy shimmered when she was surrounded by an audience, but now she shivered slightly, remembering hyena people. Were these girls possessed?
"So, you want to be chaste," said Tracey, with frank disbelief.
"Well, of course," said Cordy confidently.
"Why?" asked a smaller girl, smaller but with penetrating, ugly pale blue eyes.
"Well," Cordy began smoothly, "Because if we're not chaste we can't help others find the way to purity. It's all about the community, the community of God," I do remember how to study, thank you, she thought.
"Why does God want us to be chaste?" Tracey asked quietly.
"Spiritual hygiene," Cordy recited from memory, then went into her own interpretation, "I mean, if I don't know anything about brushing my teeth, then I have no idea who has gingivitis. And you can CATCH that from someone's toothbrush, so if I floss, and I require that my family and friends floss, then more people are flossing, and nobody gets bloody gums,"
They stared at her in a brief silence.
"I mean, just imagine if we never needed dentists,"
They were still staring, but Cordy decided it was time to can it.
"Being chaste isn't just about our influence on the community, " said Tracey, "You forgot the most important thing,"
"That woman is unclean!" sneered Karen in an extremely condescending fashion, "Eve brought sin into the garden, and after that everyone had to be clothed!"
"Uh...well, that goes without saying-" Cordy felt nausea creeping up. How medieval was THIS crap?
"You have to say it everyday. You have to know it all the time. We are UNCLEAN. We have to do penance, and we have to make clean the way,"
"Well, yeah, yeah, of course," Cordy cleared her throat, "We can make it up to...to um... Him,"
"Every time a woman refuses to obey the laws of God, every time a woman sins, Satan rejoices! And his hold on us strengthens. We must be chaste, we must be pure," said Tracey.
"And we must bring down the weak," said Karen fiercely.
"For they weaken us all," added the little one with the white-blue eyes.
"We must clean up the filth of sin," hissed Tracey.
"Yes," said Cordy quietly, and with a deep breath, she summoned something in herself, an intention she had never known before. She felt panic, she felt anxiety, and she let it show, meeting them all in the eyes with it. She looked at them.
"I need your help," she said, almost in a whisper, "I've come from such a horrible place. And the people there...I don't know what's good or true or pure anymore. I'm afraid. I don't want to belong to Satan. I want to be chaste," there were tears in her voice. The feelings were real. Only the words were a lie. Oh, my God, thought Cordy, this is acting. I'm really acting!
She could see their bodies soften. They all seemed to breathe a collective sigh. The tall one put her hand on Cordy's shoulder.
"Let's go get coffee," she said.
Angel's mouth twisted slightly in concentration as he leaned over Wesley's shoulder. Wesley wore latex gloves, a white lab apron and a shower cap, in order to keep any trace of his own DNA out of the evidence. With the magnifying lens strapped on his head to complete the outfit, he resembled a studious housewife.
"So, what kind are they?" asked Angel.
"I haven't the equipment to make a proper diagnosis,"
"Wesley, we need to know before we hand the evidence over to Kate,"
"I am aware of that. But you can't possibly expect-"
"How about that?"
"Just to the left of the break. See the half-moon shaped-"
"Oh. Oh, yes. Certainly," Wesley bent over the grisly study. He turned the splintered femur in his forceps, scraping gently at the caked blood and tissue, "Yes, here are certainly some revealing-" he stopped.
"Oh," Wesley leaned back in the chair, gulping, "Oh, oh dear,"
"Angel, they're human. I'm-I'm sure of it,"
"We already know that,"
"No, not the bones," Wesley blinked rapidly, then gazed sadly at Angel, "The bite marks were made by human teeth,"
Cordy slammed an armful of school books on Angel's desk. "Is there a basic, like, litmus test for possession?"
He looked up from his bible, which he'd been scanning without success. "Not really,"
"Great," she sat, folding her arms over the cheap wool blazer. Then she struggled out of it, hating the stiff cotton blouse. She should keep a change of clothes here in the office.
"Well, it's not an exact science," said Angel.
"I'll say it's not. It's just like Algebra. Which no one ever uses except NASA people. All those variables. If we don't know what X is and we don't know what Y is but we know that X stinks, let's spend hours figuring out what Y smells like. It's SO ridiculous. You know, our school system in this country is so messed up. Where are the ARTS, for crying out loud? What about COUNSELING for the people who are obviously the fledgling insane? Not to mention the fashion disabled. Does EVERYTHING have to be about scores?"
Angel and Wesley stared at Cordy. Wesley cleared his throat.
"So, how was school today?"
"It SUCKED. It's like a cult, Angel. I mean, these girls are really scary. They walk around with this idea that they were born dirty and they have to scrub themselves clean on the INSIDE with all of this self-punishment, and looking down on other girls as UNCLEAN and stuff,"
"It's not exactly a new idea," Angel said dryly.
"No, but it's a STUPID idea," said Cordy.
Angel laughed; it wasn't his usual soft snort, but a full, long dance of sound. He looked at Cordy and laughed again. Cordy and Wesley threw nervous glances at him.
Angel looked back at them.
"It's a bit unnerving to hear you laugh...like a human," said Wesley.
"Oh. Well..." he snickered. He slid a bookmark into the bible, set it on his desk and looked at it. "It's...I guess it's an old joke for me, because as long as I've existed women have been buying into that, and they only recently started to question it. But here's Cordy acting as if it's just a brand new bizarre idea that doesn't make any sense. I never agreed with the concept of original sin either, so...it's just very funny to me,"
"Well, I'm glad you got a kick out of it. But I am NOT getting a kick out of this school. And I got invited to sing hymns with the cult girls after school tomorrow. They wouldn't let me out of it, so I have to know. What are these girls possessed by?"
"They just sound very religious," said Wesley.
"Well, they remind me of one time in Sunnydale when a bunch of the kids were possessed by hyena spirits. SO not fun,"
"Cults can be very...eerie," said Wesley. "Then, IS this merely a cult? How could it be?"
"Well, that would explain the human bite marks," said Angel, absently. Then it occurred to him what he had said.
There was a pause.
"Let me get this straight," said Cordy, "We have a religious cult...of cannibals?"
A chill swept through the three of them. Angel sat next to Cordy. Wesley turned toward them. They all huddled closer, contemplating. Then Cordy spoke softly.
"God," she said, "Now I'm really scared,"