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Perception is such a powerful force.
For the most part we like to ignore this little fact, insisting that we don’t care what others think of us, and maybe some people actually mean it. But when people say that another’s opinion of them doesn’t matter, they’re either wrong, or just plain lying.
How we are perceived by others effects everything. Are we liked...? Are we hated...? Are we seen as Heroes or Villains? Losers or Winners? The difference could affect the course of your entire life.
On the Hellmouth however, perception is even more important. It literally has the power to shape reality to the whims of the masses.
Marcy Ross was an ordinary girl. Average by any definition of the word. She wasn’t outstandingly attractive nor woefully hideous. She didn’t stand out academically. She didn’t play any sports. She wasn’t popular enough to be accepted by the In Crowd, but she also wasn’t weird enough to be outright mocked. She didn’t have any close friends. Really, the only thing that she did that was even the slightest bit noticeable was play in the school band.
Marcy Ross spent most of her High School years unnoticed. Until the point where the perception of the entire student body was that she didn’t exist. And the Hellmouth changed her, one day she just faded from sight.
She wasn’t the only victim of perception in old Hellmouth High, she was just the only one that was noticed, ironically enough. The perception of the students also transformed at least a dozen other students over the years, changing them from bright kids with straight A’s on their report cards into geniuses that made Mensa candidates look like, well, me. I’m certain that that’s what happened to Warren Mears, to Christopher Epps, and I’m pretty sure that it happened to Willow as well.
It even happened to me, Xander Harris, though not in a way that you’d ever expect.
It was after the collapse of Sunnydale. After I had spent almost a year searching for Slayers in Africa. I had been sent to Cleveland to take over the monitoring of the Hellmouth with the Slayer House.
Personally I blame Andrew for what happened, he’s the one who blew the whole thing out of proportion. When you find out that someone new is going to be your boss, you tend to go try and find out about them before you have to meet them. The Slayers at the Cleveland house had two sources to go to when they found out I was coming. Slayers who had been there before Sunnydale collapsed and Andrew. Either Andrew was the better storyteller or the older Slayers let him tell it for shits and giggles, but he’s the one that they listened to.
Somehow, he managed to twist the whole ‘Caleb gouging out my eye’ thing into some heroic tale of how I, ‘The One Who Sees’, had possessed some great, ocular ability that had threatened the plans of the First Evil, and how I had valiantly fought against the monstrous Caleb, only to sacrifice my eye to save the life of a Potential that he had captured to lure me into his trap. Frankly, I’m amazed that anyone bought that pile of bullshit.
But... they did, and word spread. And so it was that a full week BEFORE I even arrived on the Hellmouth, the Cleveland underworld was already talking about how ‘The One Who Sees’ would soon come and gaze upon the town, piercing illusions and reigning destruction upon the enemies of the Slayers.
Living on top of an active Hellmouth, with a decent portion of the mystical population actually convinced that I had some great power that was inexplicably linked to my missing eye, something happened. Like Marcy Ross, I was changed.
The change was not what would be expected. One might believe that it would involve me somehow gaining an incredible ability to see things as they truly are, or some other crap like that, but the Hellmouth corrupts and perverts everything that it touches. It’s what made Marcy psychotic, driven insane by being unnoticed. It gave a good deal of arrogance and a frightening lack of common sense to Warren, Chris and Willow, driving them all down paths that they really should never have taken, though Willow and Chris at least were able to recover.
“Rona!” I whispered harshly, trying to get the Slayer’s attention without alerting the demons, “Take Carrie and Mina around to the back, get anything that tries to run.”
“Aye aye, oh Fearless Leader,” she answered sarcastically.
“Ha ha,” I deadpanned, “Just do it.”
It was a month after I had arrived in Cleveland, and me, Rona, and four other Slayers were about to mount an attack on a nest of El’rac demons. Only about seven of them from what I could see. They were tough little bastards, but not too bright, the Slayers should be able to handle them.
As Rona did as I asked, I took Molly and Yvonne up to the entrance, ready to launch our assault.
The girls begun the slaughter on my command and did what they do so well, incapacitating over half the demons in the first minute. It was the other half though that caused problems.
Recovered from their shock, the remaining three demons fought back with vigor. Now prepared though, they were not nearly as easily defeated as their brethren. With Carrie and Yvonne taking one demon, Mina and Molly on another, Rona was left to fight the final one single handedly. It was her that I moved to help.
I was less than halfway there when I was forced to stop, an itching rising mercilessly beneath my eye-patch as my remaining eye began to burn.
“Ach!” I gasped as my hands reached my face, trying to find what was wrong.
I couldn’t feel anything, and the sensations only worsened to the point where I ripped off my eye-patch to try to reach my socket.
It was then, that everything changed.
As soon as my eye-patch had been removed I looked out, for the first time in over eighteen months, with TWO eyes.
I didn’t notice, so transfixed I was that I was viewing the world with decent depth perception once more, that everything was tinged red. Nor did I notice the burning in my eyes increase. Not until the burning vanished in an instant, and battle of the Slayer and Demon that I had been observing suddenly changed drastically.
“Argh!!!” I screamed as power erupted from my eyes, pounding the El’rac demon into the wall so hard that it began to crack under the force. The screams of the Slayers drew my attention, and my head followed them instinctually, the force following the gaze of my eyes.
The Slayers were all fast enough to duck, despite their shock, the demons were not.
With the death of the demons, the Slayers all crowded around me as I knelt on the ground, my eyes clenched shut.
The force wouldn’t stop.
I was lead home that evening, truly blind, I was forced to trust Molly and Rona to guide me back to the house.
Mina called in the emergency and I tried to explain the situation as best I could over the phone, but it was really something that needed to be seen to be believed.
Eventually, after a demonstration that destroyed several of the trees on the property, the resident Watcher, a relatively young one, only about thirty, who had survived the First’s assaults on the Council, got to work researching.
Before daybreak, everyone had been called, even Giles and Willow over in England. Both of whom got on the next plane to Cleveland and the investigation continued as I sat blindly on the sidelines.
After a few days, it was Willow who heard gossip from the Slayers, and was lead to Andrew. Andrew retold his version of the initial attack on the wine cellar and she came to the perception theory.
Willow wanted to continue the investigation, try to find a cure to reverse what had been done, but after the Devon Coven tried and failed they instead started working on a way to control the lasers that were being continually blasted from my eyes.
In the end it was actually Andrew who found the solution. After I had been blind for a week, he decided to try something he had once seen in a video game. He started experimenting with crystals to try and find something that could stop the blast.
Eventually he found that ruby quartz, if properly treated, had the qualities necessary to disperse the energy while still letting me see. So Andrew fitted some into the frame of a custom made visor, a little 80’s for my taste, but at least it worked. The little guy may be annoying as hell, but he is damn smart when it comes to weird stuff.
I was stunned to open my eyes and see for the first time in a week, albeit everything was still tinged red, but nothing was destroyed. I almost forgave Andrew right there on the spot just because he gave me back my sight. Though I still couldn’t look anyone in the eye.
Leading the Slayers now is a different experience. Due to the red tinge to my vision, low-light situations are difficult, so I have to rely even more on the girls for directions, but when we come across a demon, my role has changed significantly.
We’ve been tracking this one monster for a week now, and it’s been soundly kicking our asses every time the Baby Slayers came across it. The creature we’re after is big, strong and smart enough to know when to lay low.
Faith and I have both taken squads of Slayers out looking for it without much luck, and tonight looks like more of the same.
Faith’s voice came over the radio, “You see it yet Cyclops?”
She started calling me Cyclops back when I first lost my eye, and elected not to stop when it grew back on account of the visor that I have to wear 24/7.
“Not yet, Faith,” I answer her, “We’ll alert you if we find it.”
“You better,” she replied before cutting out.
“Xander!” Molly called from the front of the five man - well, four Slayer plus one man - group, a few minutes later, “I think we may have found something.”
She had. Footprints. The demon we’re after has a pretty distinctive set of prints, kind of hard to miss a hoof-print with opposable digits.
“Faith? We found it. Get over here,” I rushed out over the radio as we ducked behind a small mausoleum.
The creature stomped through the graveyard, about seven foot tall and looking like it just caught a helicopter from Jurassic Park.
“Weapons out and go for the eyes!” I ordered as the Slayers leapt into action.
Reaching for the switch on my visor, I released a beam of crimson energy at the demon, knocking it back a few feet as the Slayers came at it with swords and axes.
The blast enraged the demon, but the bladed weapons wielded by the Slayers quickly drew blood from multiple wounds. Unfortunately, these seemed to do little more than irritate it as it reached out with one armed and knocked aside Molly and Yvonne with a single blow. Rona and Mina shortly followed.
From my position, too far away from the girls to reach them before the demon, I released another beam of destructive force towards it, grabbing it’s full attention.
It started moving towards me, limping due to an injury inflicted by Mina, not even giving any of the downed Slayers a second glance.
As it came closer I debated what to do. The visor gave me control, but it weakened the energy passing through it, removing it could give me enough power to take the demon out, but the shot would be wild, I’d be relying entirely on sound to aim and if I missed and hit one of the girls... well, it wouldn’t be pretty.
“Screw it,” I muttered, as the creature roared again and prepared to attack. I pulled off the visor, my eyes closed as I waited for a signal. It roared again and I could practically feel it coil as it prepared to leap, and I opened my eyes wide to release a pure blast of devastating energy.
“Argh!” I yelled as the demon met the blast in the chest, and it started to fight the oncoming beams.
“Damn, X,” Faith commented when she arrived a few minutes later and took in the scene. The demon was lying dead amidst the rubble of what was once a marble tomb with it’s chest caved in while I tried to help the Slayers regain their equilibrium, visor once more adorning my face, “Its times like these, I remember why you’re in charge.”
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