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The Fire Within.

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This story is No. 2 in the series "The Change.". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Xover with the S. M. Stirling novel ‘Dies the Fire’ and ‘A Meeting at Corvallis’. Faith and her watcher are caught up in ‘The Change’ and must adjust to the ‘Changed’ world.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Literature > Action(Recent Donor)DaveTurnerFR182388,0301611021,5754 Nov 0827 Nov 08Yes

Chapter Two.

“I’d rather sit around, Piccadilly on the ground,
Living on the earnings of a high class lady.”

Traditional.

0=0=0=0

The door slammed open flooding the little room with a light that woke Faith from a deep sleep. Through sleep blurred eyes she saw a figure silhouetted in the doorway to her cramped little bedroom.

“Mom?” she asked sleepily as the figure took a couple of unsteady steps into the room and loomed over her bed.

“Mom?” Faith repeated her voice trembling a little with fear and uncertainty as she realised she didn’t recognise the person standing over her.

The figure reached down and ripped the bed clothes off her bed, Faith tried to scramble away from the hands that grabbed at her and pulled at the over large t-shirt she worn in place of a nightdress. Frantically she tried to push away the rough hands that pawed at her and roamed over her thin near naked body.

“MOM!” she cried out in alarm.

She smelt whiskey on the breath of the man as he attempted to kiss her on the mouth, she scratched at his face with small sharp nails.

“MOM!” she cried again but her mother didn’t come to help her.

Her world exploded in bright multi-coloured stars as the man’s fist smashed into her face and knocked her almost senseless, she could still feel the weight of the man as he climbed on top of her and crushed her into the mattress, the sudden pain, then oblivion as she passed out.

0=0=0=0

“MOM!” Faith called out in her sleep.

“Bad dream?” cooed a calm kind voice as a smooth hand stroked her forehead, “Never mind, go back to sleep,” a soft kiss brushed her cheek as the voice droned on, “there-there never mind, it’ll be alright in the morning,” a hand slipped into hers as she drifted back into a deep dreamless sleep.

“Mom?” she murmured.

“If only I was,” sighed Penelope, “if only…I’m here baby, nothing to worry about, you go back to sleep.”

Letting go of Faith’s hand Penelope pulled her blanket up around her shoulders and settled back into her seat. Poor girl, she thought as she stroked Faith’s hair in the moonlight, ‘that woman’ had allowed all manner of terrible things to happen to her daughter. Well, those days were past now: the dreams weren’t anywhere near as frequent as they used to be. Given time Faith would recover from her childhood trauma…if she was given the time.

0=0=0=0

Leaning against the open trunk, Penelope watched the sun come up over the tree clad mountains, she let cigarette smoke trickle from her nostrils before inhaling again and crushing out the butt with her shoe heel. She looked down at her creased tweed skirt and rumpled blouse, time for a change of look, she thought, something more suitable for the present situation.

Looking around the open boot lid she checked on Faith, the girl was still fast asleep untroubled by the dark dreams of the night before. A few kind words and a little hypnotism had calmed her slayer and sent her back to sleep. She felt the anger rising in her chest again; who was going to calm her? How could ‘that woman’ have let that happen to her own daughter? Faith had only been twelve, how…?

Searching frantically for her cigarettes Penelope stopped when she opened the packet, only ten left better save them for later. Breathe deeply she used some of the calming techniques she’d learnt in your youth; she had other things to worry about today.

Having woken up just as the sun was peeping over the horizon, Penelope had crept out of the car, not that there was much chance of waking Faith. She was under a compulsion to sleep until Penelope woke her or someone opened the car door. Leaving Faith asleep would give her time to heal and give Penelope time to do some thinking.

So far she had discovered that nothing electrical worked, her watch had stopped; the car battery and all the batteries in torches, even the little razor she used for her legs and underarms were dead. At first she had thought that the EMP from a nuclear weapon might be responsible, but she had some vague memories that if something was switched off it should remain unaffected. Whatever the truth of that was she’d never heard of EMP draining batteries.

On a whim she had tried the little .22 automatic she kept for those things (like drunks who didn’t understand what ‘no’ meant) that setting Faith on was just overkill. She’d pulled the trigger and listened to the weapon go ‘click’, she’d ejected the first round and tried again; once more there was a resounding click that echoed around the silent wood. Next she’d taken a round apart and set a march to the powder. The propellant fizzed and spluttered and acted very much like the proverbial damp squib.

Glancing at her watch Penelope tutted in annoyance when she saw the stationary hands; it was time to wake Faith up. Walking around to the front of the car she opened Faith’s door. The sleepy slayer almost tumbled out onto the road.

“Wake-up sleeping beauty,” Penelope watched in amusement as Faith’s eye’s opened and she looked out at the world.

“Huh?” grunted Faith as she took in her surroundings with a puzzled look.

“Remember?” Penelope straightened up and walked back to the open trunk, “We broke down…I hope you’re in the mood for a long walk.”

Faith shambled around to join Penelope at the rear of the car; she wasn’t really a morning person.

“Coffee?” Penelope put a small kettle on the camping cooker.

“Umm,” Faith looked around uneasily, “when do we get to a restroom?”

Sighing Penelope searched in the boot for a few moments before presenting Faith with a small shovel and a roll of toilet paper.

“There you are,” she handed the things to Faith, “one restroom.”

Faith looked at the objects in disgust, Penelope sighed again; Americans were so prissy about bodily functions.

“Dig a small hole,” she instructed, “squat, do what you have to do, then fill in the hole…simple,” she smiled happily at the look on Faith’s face.

“Gross,” sneered Faith, “I’ll wait.”

“Then it’ll be a long wait,” Penelope explained cheerfully.

“What?”

“Nothing’s come by,” Penelope spooned coffee powder into two mugs, “so we’re going to have to walk…and the nearest restroom would be about two or three days away.”

“Shit,” breathed Faith before she could stop herself.

“Yes, in the woods please,” the kettle started to boil and Penelope turned and took it off the cooker.

0=0=0=0

After a breakfast of tinned sardines on crisp bread washed down by instant coffee Penelope started to get them both organised. She had already changed from her tweed skirt and white blouse into her army surplus combat trousers and walking boots (Penelope Frost was an avid hiker). She’d swapped her cotton blouse for a sweat shirt and she’d dug out her waxed water proof jacket from amongst their luggage.

Faith was more of a problem, she was a city girl not given to outdoor pursuits (other than slaying). However, by searching through both their limited wardrobes Penelope found her something suitable to wear. She was particularly worried about Faith’s foot wear, okay, the trainers were good quality and wouldn’t fall apart just because she’d done something silly like ‘walk’ in them. They’d have to do for now, but if they had to cross any rough terrain they might be a problem. She put ‘boots for Faith’ high on the mental list of things they needed.

Making blanket rolls from two of the blankets Penelope made sure that Faith had a couple of changes of underwear, a spare t-shirt; and spare socks were stuffed into the pockets of her jacket. What little food they had was placed into other pockets, Penelope all the time cursing herself for not bringing at least one back pack, boiled sweets were stashed away, what remained of the water was split between two plastic bottle (proper canteens were another item for Penelope’s list). They were almost ready to leave.

“I don’t understand,” Faith stared wistfully at all her nice clothes that Penelope had bought for her over the months; it had been so great to have nice stuff, now they were going to leave it all behind.

“What don’t you understand Faith?” Penelope tied strips of torn up blouse around one of the blanket rolls to hold it secure.

“You’re acting like this is some sorta disaster or something,” Faith fiddled with the hilt of her new knife.

“Faith dear,” Penelope looked up into Faith’s face, “you must have noticed that there’s something extra weird going on.”

“Yeah but…,” Faith was reluctant to admit, even to herself, that this wasn’t all some temporary upset.

“Look sweetheart,” standing up and putting a sympathetic arm around Faith’s shoulder Penelope tried to explain, “We’ve been here for over twelve hours now and no ones come by. Even in this godforsaken country that’s just odd, and nothing electrical works so I think something serious has happened and we need to plan for the worst.” She watched Faith’s reaction, she still didn’t fully grasp that something was badly wrong, “Look, when we walk along the road and get picked up by the forest rangers or whatever, you have my full permission to call me a silly old woman, right?” Faith smiled a little and nodded her head. “Until that happy moment arrives we’ll act as if this is permanent, okay?”

“Okay,” agreed Faith still a little reluctant to accept the truth.

“Right then, lets get going,” Penelope buckled on a belt around her waist which carried her own hunting knife.

Faith slung a sword on a belt across her right shoulder while her blanket roll went over her left. After putting on her own blanket roll Penelope picked up her map and compass.

“Aren’t you bringing you gun?” Faith pointed to the little pistol that lay in the trunk.

“Doesn’t work anymore dear,” Penelope looked at the map and then up and down the road, “I’ve never been one for retracing my steps,” she explained, “so, what say we carry on in the direction we were going?”

“You’re the boss,” admitted Faith.

“Yes I am, aren’t I?” Penelope sounded just a little unsure of herself, but only for a moment, “Right-ho this way then,” she pointed and they started on down the road at a brisk walk.

0=0=0=0

“You see Faith,” Penelope explained an hour or so later, “it’s this damn country of yours…”

“Not my fault,” muttered Faith as she walked along beside her watcher.

“It’s so bloody big…a journey of what was an hour in a car is now a good day’s march away, with nothing in between.” Penelope sounded disgusted, as if America was doing this deliberately just to make things harder than they already were, “Come on let’s sing…”

“Sing?” Faith looked incredulously at what, until a few seconds ago, had been the reasonably sane woman by her side. “What have we got to sing about?” her feet where beginning to hurt and she didn’t ‘do’ singing.

“It’ll help pass the time…when I was in the army,” Penelope started to explain, “that’s the British Army not the militia you people have…”

Just for a moment Faith felt as if she’d just been insulted but let it pass.

“…we always used to sing on route marches…come on,” Penelope nudged Faith’s arm with her own, “join in…‘I don’t want to join the army’,” she sang, “‘I don’t want to go to war’.” Faith reluctantly mumbled along with the words.

After hearing the song all the way through Faith started to ‘sing’ along with her watcher.

“…’I don’t want a bayonet up me arsehole!’” they told the world at the tops of their voices, “‘I don’t want me bollocks shot away! I’d rather stay in England…” Faith found herself singing by herself, she glanced at Penelope who was looking extremely worried as she stared off down the road; Faith followed her gaze.

“Car,” said Penelope quietly.

0=0=0=0

The front of the family saloon was buried in the drainage ditch that ran along the side of the road, leaving only a small section of the car’s rear end sticking out of grass and scrub that lined the roadside. Penelope led Faith over to the car and climbed down into the ditch and looked into the front of the vehicle.

“Tracks,” called Faith softly from the passenger’s side.

Sure enough the grass had been trampled down making a path leading on down the ditch.

“Blood,” Faith pointed to a few spots of brown on the ground.

“Hmm,” Penelope came around the car to stand next to Faith, “looks like they lost control and crashed when whatever it was hit last night, at least one person was injured.”

“Can’t have been too bad,” Faith pointed out, “not a lot of blood and they got out of the car okay.”

“Two people you think?” Penelope glanced at Faith who nodded her head, “Okay so they crashed, one was injured the other pulled them from the car and went that-a-way,” she pointed in the direction of the trampled grass.

“Can’t have gone far,” Faith led the way along the rough path, she stopped suddenly, “crap,” she sighed.

Pushing past her slayer Penelope found the middle aged couple lying in the ditch obviously dead. She knelt and examined the bodies; as they’d thought one had been slightly hurt. The woman, a typical looking housewife in her mid forties, had probably been driving when the light struck. Likely as not she’d lost control of the car and by the looks of things hit her head on the stirring wheel.

When the car had come to a halt her husband, he looked like a business man from his neat haircut and smart casual clothes, had pulled his wife from the car and carried her here. It was then that an uncaring universe had, as Penelope’s Sandhurst instructors would have said, ‘put the boot in’.

“Look,” Penelope pointed to the holes in the couples necks, “Fucking vampire that’s all we need,” she turned to see Faith bemused expression, “well, I did say an earthy expletive was appropriate in the right circumstances…and I think this counts.

Standing up Penelope studied the tall brooding trees that seemed to press in on the road, somewhere out there was a bloody vampire, she cursed internally; bugger, bugger BUGGER! Now they would have to break off from their own attempts at survival and hunt this bastard down before he snacked on anyone else.

“Faith!” she said rather too sharply, “Check the car for anything useful.”

She watched Faith walk off through the grass; then looked down at the bodies. There was nothing she could do for these people now. Searching through the man’s pockets she found a wallet with money, credit cards and driver’s licence. After giving it a quick look she stuffed it back in the man’s pocket. Standing up she walked slowly back to the car to see Faith tossing things out onto the bank of the ditch.

“I’m sorry I snapped,” Penelope, picked up a box of matches that Faith had tossed onto the ground.

“Yeah okay, no big deal,” she mumbled not looking around.

Damn. Penelope sighed, Faith might act all tough and streetwise but the truth was she was still fragile. All her life she had been ground down by that mother of hers, and every time someone had given her even a little emotional support that person would be cruelly ripped away from her leaving her feeling even more alone in the world.

“Here let me help,” she joined Faith in searching the car.

0=0=0=0

“We just gonna leave them there?” Faith asked as they walked away from the crash site.

“Nothing we can do for them now Faith,” they had come away from the car a bottle of water, some candy bars and several pairs of good clean socks better off.

“Even after we took their stuff?”

“Yes I know it sounds ungrateful, but we’ve got ourselves to worry about,” plus hunting down this vampire, “and the bears have to eat too.”

“Gross,” there was a hint of a smile on Faith’s face as she spoke.

“Look Faith,” Penelope started to apologies for snapping at the girl again, “I was annoyed at the vampire for making our lives harder and I took it out on you…I shouldn’t have.”

Faith gave a small laugh.

“What’s so funny?”

“I was just imagining you getting ‘annoyed’ with a vampire,” a grin split Faith’s face, “I can just see you wagging your finger at it as it tried to back away from you…”

“I do not wag my finger.”

“Do so.”

“Do I?”

“uh-huh.”

“Must be turning into some sort of school ma’am,” Penelope shook her head in self disgust.

“So how we gonna hunt this vamp?” Faith appeared to be back to her normal self again.

“We won’t, we’ll let it hunt us,” nodding her head in agreement with her own plan Penelope whittled away at a piece of wood, at least being stuck in the woods meant there was no shortage of stakes.

“How do we know the vamp will follow us anyway,” Faith walked backwards for a few paces studying the road behind.

“Vampires,” Penelope said the word pointedly, “are generally very stupid creatures, they think with their teeth and go where the food is,” she finished the stake and handed it to Faith before starting another, “it’s the clever ones that are really dangerous…anyway, I expect he’ll lay up under the trees, plenty of cover here,” she gestured at forest, “and follow the road by night.”

“Why wouldn’t he go the other way?”

“Well think about it Faith,” Penelope paused to let Faith use her brain.

“Yeah,” Faith nodded her head to herself as she spoke, “there was nothing between us and that car so we’d have met up with the vamp last night.”

“Unless he sneaked by in the dark, but I honestly can’t imagine a vampire passing up on two ‘helpless’ females on a lonely country road,” she laughed bitterly.

“Truck,” Faith pointed ahead.

Sure enough a pick-up sat by the side of the road, this time it looked as if whoever had been driving had kept control and brought the vehicle to a safe halt.

“Probably a local.” Penelope opened the driver’s door and looked inside.

“Local plates,” called Faith as she walked around the back of the vehicle and looked into the cargo space.

“Looks like everything’s gone that might be of use,” Penelope picked a piece of paper off the dash board, “he even left a note.”

Opening out the note Penelope read it quickly before replacing it and opening out her map.

“What’s up?” Faith tried to see over her watchers shoulder.

“Damn useless map,” Penelope muttered as she searched the map for place names, “the note mentioned a place called Castleton…sounded as if it’s in easy walking distance can’t find it on the map though.”

“Here let me look,” Faith elbowed her watcher to one side.

“Hey,” Penelope elbowed back, “know your place young woman,” the two shared a grin before searching the map together.

After several minutes fruitless searching they gave up, “Probably not on the map,” Penelope finally admitted, “Too larger scale,” and it had seemed perfectly adequate when they’d started out, now it might get them killed.

Looking at her watcher closely Faith could feel the worry rolling off her in great waves. When you lived with someone for a long time you got attuned to their moods…and what with her heightened slayer senses Faith could almost see the red flashing light above her watcher’s head that indicated danger.

“This is really freaking you out, isn’t it?”

“Yes Faith it is,” Penelope looked at her with new respect, the child was beginning to grow up, “I’ve got to admit that the whole situation has me worried, very worried indeed.”

Which, Faith kept her thoughts to herself, was like saying that her watcher was about to run in screaming circles and pull her hair out in panic.

“Hey,” it was Faith’s turn to give her watcher a reassuring squeeze, “you got me what more do you want?”

So, Penelope told her as they walked on down the road, listing all the things that would be really useful just about now. By the time she’d got to the part of the list that itemised the more ‘personal’ items, Faith was laughing out loud her own worries forgotten.

TBC.

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