“Jean-Claude, what are you talking about?” Anita snapped out her question, annoying by his drama. Deep inside, a core of worry began to gnaw at her. One that only grew larger at his next words.
“Do not play the child with me, ma petit. I did not risk all that I have, my life and yours, so that you could throw it away by siding with that... thing.” Jean-Claude's voice rose at the end, extra punctuation added to the epithet he hurled at Buffy.
Anita had never seen Jean-Claude so angry. Every other time they'd argued, there had been an underlying core of amusement. It was completely absent now. Now he merely looked angry, tired, and sad, in that order.
Buffy had enough of being called names. With a sharp whistle, she drew the attention of the others. “Hey! Standing right here. I don't know who you think you are, calling me names, but you can stop. Like now. I don't appreciate being called a thing. Got it?” Buffy's last comment contained menace that went beyond words. There, that should put Count Chocula in his place, she thought.
Anita watched an emotion she'd never seen before flit across Jean-Claude's face. Stark fear. At that moment, she had a revelation. Jean-Claude was terrified. Terrified of Buffy. What Anita had seen in the other room had been enough to make her wary, okay nervous, but not enough to engender this kind of fear. She wondered what lay at the core of it.
Jean-Claude took a moment to compose himself. Afterwards, he was almost the same urban vampire he had always been. Almost. Looking at Buffy now, he addressed her, “How long has it been since you were called to be the Slayer, ma meurtrier?”
For a moment, Buffy continued to glare at him. Finally, grudgingly, she answered, “I was called about two months after my fifteenth birthday, so about four months ago. Why do you want to know?”
Jean-Claude seemed to sag in relief. Anita couldn't understand how such an innocuous question could engender such a heart-felt response. Jean-Claude glanced at both of the women in front of him in turn, apparently formulating a reply. Finally, he spoke, “We have some time at least.” With that he stopped speaking, again settling back to think.
“Jean-Claude, tell me what the hell is going on! First you put these 'marks' on me, then you force me to kill the master for you. Now you are acting like a raving lunatic. What the hell is a 'slayer'? Nikolaos called Buffy the same thing. Talk to me dammit!” Okay, technically, Buffy had killed Nikolaos, but she'd helped.
Suddenly Jean-Claude began to laugh. It tore through Anita like broken glass. The wererats behind her shifted uneasily. As the laugh rose to a crescendo, it was abruptly cut off with something that sounded suspiciously like a sob. Jean-Claude shed bloody tears, streaks of red running down his cheeks. With a curse, he wiped his face, scrubbing it with a hankerchief. “Ma petit, you don' know what you are asking. Explain the Slayer to her, she says. Mon dieu! How can I do that?”
Buffy stared at Jean-Claude, then at Anita. “Creepy laugh?” It hadn't jazzed her, but it sounded weird.
Anita almost smiled. “Yes, pretty creepy. Can the bullshit, Jean-Claude. Come on, talk to me.” Anita almost pleaded the last. Perhaps it was her pleading tone, or perhaps he had finally arrived at the words to explain, but finally Jean-Claude began to speak.
“First, let's send our friends away.” Gesturing to the wererats, he waited. After a moment, exchanging uneasy glances, they left. Jean-Claude again paused a moment, gathering his thoughts. After a moment, he spoke, “The Slayer? How to go about explaining her? To do so, I will have to go back many centuries. Millenia. To another age. Another civilization. Before Pharaoh's pyramids. Before Babel's towers. Before the fields of Sumer. Before any of those fabled centers of civilization began, there was another land. Peopled with master mages, both good and bad, as well as masters of various other crafts, both great and small. Through its technical and magical mastery, it ruled a large portion of the ancient world. As all civilizations, it had both good and bad, dark and light, within it. A vampire arrived at the seat of this civilization, older by far than even its builders. Surrounded by a coterie of other masters, he attacked it. It was said he wanted to return the humans to barbarism, to send them back into the dark forests to once again be prey animals. For us, the vampires. Whether or not this was true, he was succeeding. He turned a large number of the city's citizens. They killed wantonly across the city, leaving blood to drain into the ground, not slaking their thirst, for their intent was murder and destruction, not to feed. But the master had made a fatal miscalculation. His behavior had come to the attention of the Council. Newly formed, it had been only a few years since it was left on its own without the Sweet Mother's guidance. It...”
“Jean-Claude, I asked for an explanation and you're telling me a ghost story. What does all this talk of mythology have to do with us now?” Anita was confused by Jean-Claude's long-winded explanation. What did his talk of legends have to do with Buffy?
“It will become clear soon enough the relevance of which I speak. Now if I may continue? Ahh, yes. The Council learned of the matter and sent emissaries to deal with the rogue master. It chose its most powerful member to guide the rogue master back into the fold. Or to destroy him. But they were too late. For the humans, fearing the loss of all they'd built, entered into an unholy alliance. White mages and black sorcerers, together began the fashioning of something... monstrous. They summoned one of the creatures of the outer dark, a powerful and puissant example of the breed. What you would call a 'demon lord'. It was the supreme hunter of its realm, deadly and cruel. But those are our terms. It would not understand the concepts. With magics both white and dark, they bound the thing to a young woman, just entering her fifteenth year. Her terror and pain were great, as she was bound body and soul to the darkness, her individuality consumed by the melding. What arose that day was... neither man nor demon, but a melding of them, a fleshly alloy infused with the traits and powers of both. Holy items did not harm it and vampiric powers could not touch it. It was... other. And they unleashed it on the vampires that inhabited their city. And it slew. And slew. Until rivers of blood flowed into the gutters. It could not be sated. The Beast walked in the shape of a girl and killed throughout the city...”
“At last, the Council representative arrived. He sent his emissaries into the city. They found no rebellious vampires, but instead death that struck them down within hours of their arrival. The Council representative saw through the eyes of one of his bloodline the form of the destroyer. Later, he would encounter a survivor that had fled the city, who filled in these details I have told you. But at that moment, he knew only that something terrible had arisen and destroyed the bloodlines within the city. He raised the earth against the city and destroyed it, killing all who inhabited it.”
“Jean-Claude, are you trying to tell me that a vampire had the power to cause an earthquake and destroyed an entire city? That preposterous. No vampire is that powerful.” Anita was upset. Involuntarily, she gotten involved with the tale that Jean-Claude spun out. But she refused to believe in earthquake-causing vampires. It was too much.
“Ma petit, it is true. The vampire's power was to shake the earth. He shook it so violently that it destroyed the city, eliminating any trace of it for future generations to find. Going back... the Council representative then encountered the lone survivor who had fled the city. When he understood exactly what had been wrought by the denizens of this city, of this civilization, he swore to destroy it. Not because he hated man, but because he could not allow the experiment to be repeated. So he moved throughout the empire, shaking down the walls of the cities, killing the citizens by the thousands. Until no stone was erect. At that, he left, returning to the Council. The great city and the empire it had spawned sank back into barbarism and myth. And man once again huddled in caves, hiding from the darkness. But the Council representative made one mistake. He did not understand the true scope of what had been wrought that day by the combining of powers both white and dark. He did not understand that by killing one head, another sprang into being. When he slew the Slayer, the power leaped into another body. And it has continued throughout the ages, for endless thousands of years.”
Buffy had listened to Jean-Claude's story. It was interesting, and no more unbelievable than the Bible, but so what? She couldn't see any bad here. “Big whoop. So vampires dead. Slayer wins. And then is treacherously murdered by another vampire. Tell me another bedtime story, grandpa. Have you heard the one that goes, 'Oh grandma, what big teeth you have?' You could tell that one about the origin of werewolves.”
Anita frowned at Buffy's flippancy. She saw the anger on Jean-Claude's face at Buffy's comments. Anita was not sure how much of what he'd said was true. The story was horrible. A demon used to possess someone was awful, but Buffy did not act possessed, at least not most of the time. Anita asked, “Jean-Claude, while what you told us was awful, especially for the girl, I do not understand the reason behind the story. What are you trying to say?”
“If the story was not enough to horrify you, ma petit, ma meurtrier, then let me clarify. Ma petit, you spoke of possession. The girl was not possessed. She was 'blended' with the demon. A true combining. A melding. And her intellect controlled the resulting being. For a time. But let's go back to the story. So the Council believed the threat was ended, the rogue master was punished, and the Council's power was greater than ever. Then, it learned of a new threat thousands of miles from the last one. For the first time, it was speculated that the spirit of this being could jump bodies. Everytime a body was destroyed, another arose. So the Council decided to bide its time and watch this new threat. That was when it happened. Three years after a new slayer was called, long after it had cleared the vampires from it 'territory', it went mad. The being slew every living thing within its territory, then moved to another. The threat was too immediate, too real, to be ignored. The Council again sent forth its representative, but this time accompanied by many, many other vampires. After long journeys and great hardships, they tracked the being to its lair. There, they attacked it. And something was learned. The being, while immune to the various powers of the vampires gathered, was not able to shrug off the presence of so many. It almost paralyzed the creature. It was as if, with so much prey present, the thing was unable to choose. To act. The vampires responded swiftly. They were able to bind it in heavy chains, so heavy that even it could not escape. They returned it to the Council. There, it was decided to imprison it, preventing the unleasing of another such creature. They...”
“It's a lie.” Buffy strode up to Jean-Claude, poking a finger into his chest. With every poke, she spoke. With every poke, Jean-Claude flinched. “You. Are. Lying. I am not some... creature. I will not go mad and kill everyone. I won't. Take it back. You heard me! Take it BACK!” Tears dripped down Buffy's face as she shouted the last. Anita put an arm around her shoulders. Luckily, there was no blood present to cause another calamity. Slowly, Anita hugged the sobbing girl. After a moment, Buffy hugged her back, crying into Anita's shoulder. Anita sent Jean-Claude a glare. At his perplexed expression, her glare intensified. With a Gallic shrug, he continued.
“I am sorry ma meurtrier, that what I have said distresses you. It was not my intent.” As he gazed upon the still sobbing girl, Anita saw the most unlikely expression in his eyes. Compassion. It made him more approachable. It made him more 'human'.
“What caused the Slayers to behave as they did? Does the Council know that?”
“It was speculated that the demonic essence causes a kind of 'moral decay', eventually corrupting the soul. When the soul is completely black, the Slayer takes over. The Council, over the millenia, has observed many slayers. Each has gone mad shortly after serving as the vessel for three years. There has been some differences, but they are months at best. None have been immune.”
Buffy raised tear-stained cheeks to him. Sniffing loudly, she stated, “I still don't believe you. If it were true, Giles would have known. Merrick would have known. They would have told me. You are lying.” Buffy hissed this last, starting to shift in Anita's arms. Anita whispered in her ears calming words. At last she settled back, allowing Anita to continue to hold her.
“I do not have the words, ma petit.” Staring into Jean-Claude's eyes, Anita saw them shift. And she knew.
“You know something. Tell us.”
“You ask for this knowledge. But you do not want to know. Not truly. Neither of you do. Such information would only cause pain. Better to lock it away.”
“Please, tell me.” Buffy's simple plea persuaded Jean-Claude, where Anita's demand had not.
With a sigh, he acceded. “The Watchers have known about the Slayer for many years. They are the ones who developed a defense against the Slayer. Against her power.”
“So I'm not going to go mad and kill all of St. Louis?” Buffy turned hopeful eyes back to the master. This situation was seriously wigging her out. The worst thing was Buffy could feel that Jean-Claude was right. The Slayer within her already stretched her self-control. If it became stronger, Buffy could see herself losing control. It would be horrible to hurt someone she cared about. Somehow, she had to find another way.
Jean-Claude shook his head. “It is not that kind of power. They cannot prevent what will be. Instead, sometime deep in the past, they discovered a way to alter the original spell ever so slightly. Enough to command the Slayer once, when the madness appears. Using tokens of power. Made of silver. Inscribed with the ancient symbols of the spell itself. They use this power to end the menace of a mad Slayer. A simple command to stand still, while they strike her down. That is the source of their power. That is why they have become a rival to the Council itself.”
Buffy connected the dots. The weapons she'd received from both Giles and Merrick. All made of silver. All inscribed with strange symbols. With a cry of rage, she exploded from Anita's arms. “Nooooo! Damn you! Liar! Liar!” She grabbed Jean-Claude by the neck and slammed him into the wall. Just beyond the veil, the Slayer beckoned. Send for me, I will fly on crimson wings. Somehow, Buffy drove it back inside. “Giles wouldn't do that! MERRICK wouldn't do that! Merrick loved me! He DIED for me! He wouldn't do that. He wouldn't deceive me.” Buffy was aware of someone prying at her hand. She looked over at Anita's face. And the gun she held in her hand. She looked ahead to Jean-Claude, whose eyes were terrified. Terrified like Phillip's eyes had been. Releasing him, she stepped back.
“Ma meurtrier. Ma meurtrier. I am so very sorry, but it is true. You are bound in chains of silver and magic and cannot be released. They have the power to command you. But remember, it is but once. If they are to use you, they cannot control your day-to-day activities. They can only use their ultimate power, once. That threat is mostly toothless. Within those strictures, you are free. I regret not being able to offer you more.” Anita saw sadness darken blue eyes, as Jean-Claude struggled to reassure Buffy.
“Jean-Claude, you speak as if this were personal to you. Were you imprisoned?” Anita asked her question, not realizing the depth of the response. Jean-Claude stopped and stared at her, his face whitening, humanity bleeding away. The anguish in his eyes made her shudder, before he dropped shields over them, once again veiling his emotions.
“Ma petit, any form of servitude is abhorrent. I have been bound in chains of duty and love, suffering such as the damned suffer. Somehow, I have survived. And mostly with my mind intact. I cannot share any intimate details, even with you. Perhaps someday, sometime in the future, we will talk of this.” The moment was lost. Any vulnerability Jean-Claude possessed was once more hidden. Calculation entered the blue eyes that looked at Anita. Jean-Claude saw the anger return to Anita's eyes and turned away, once more facing Buffy.
“Ma meurtrier, you cannot trust the Watchers. They have done worse than kill slayers in the past. They have delivered their slayers up to the Council itself, allowing them to be imprisoned. Thus, they buy safety. I do not know if it is all of them, or just a few that are privy to this. Ultimately, it doesn't matter. They are not to be trusted. At that, I ask a boon of you, ma meurtrier...”
“Why do you keep calling me your cupcake?” Buffy had put together half-forgotten French lessons and thought she knew the meaning behind the name Jean-Claude called her.
“It doesn't mean cupcake, does it Jean-Claude?” Anita asked, giving him a hard stare.
At her glare, Jean-Claude seemed to wince. Shrugging, he responded, “My cupcake is a beautiful translation. Now on to the other... I ask that you do not slay any more vampires without first informing me, so that we may put the best 'spin' on things. As long as the Council does not know of you, we are all safe. When they do learn of you, they will come, in force, and take you from us, killing the rest of us. Or worse. May I have your word?”
“Why should I agree?”
“Have I not been honest with you, when others were not? I do not try to bind you as they did. I merely ask you to speak to me first. Please, will you do so?” Jean-Claude wore his most charming smile as he waited for Buffy's reply.
Looking up at him, all Buffy saw was a corpse. Sure, he was pretty, but dead is dead. However, he had been truthful with her. Until he lied, she would give him the benefit of the doubt. Slowly Buffy nodded. “I will do as you ask. I give you my word.” The formal quality of the words made the agreement even more surreal. It was as if ancient enemies, both honorable, agreed to a truce, laying aside their arms. The only binding their word. Head and heart. As it has always been. Suddenly the words had new meaning. Both governed the agreement she'd made. Somehow, with hope still alive, Buffy was prepared to face tomorrow. She would live another day. After that, she would try to figure out a solution. Suddenly, she panicked. Oh shit, she thought. I forgot. School starts tomorrow! Where was another master vampire to slay when you needed one?
Okay, that's it, but don't worry, it'll be continued in Buffy and Ted's Excellent Adventure, coming soon.