The Heroes of Our Time
Chapter 7 – The Heroes of Our Time
Disclaimer: I don’t own either of them. Obviously.
AN: RL sucks…. Just saying. The next chapter is finally here, and thanks to Illyriagoddess for pushing me to get on with it. There will be one or two more chapters until this story is finished. I’m very busy this year with school, but if people were nudge me to get moving, that might get these next chapter(s) finished that much quicker.
Buffy so didn’t want to hear that. She wanted to hear some overly British version of ‘Eureka’, smothered in vindicated triumph and cool contempt for lesser magic workers. ‘Bugger’ wasn’t on the itinerary. ‘Bugger’ hadn’t even made the previous rounds. It wasn’t the word itself that she had issues with, although, what bugs had to do with anything she hadn’t a clue. It was the connotations behind it. ‘Bugger’ was a British code word for ‘oh-crap-the-world-is-about-to-end-and-I-didn’t-think-it-was-this-bad’.
She and Ethan’s regularly scheduled trip to the latest crime had gone off without a hitch. It hadn’t taken much doing to duck under the overly officious yellow tinker tape surrounding the warehouse. They didn’t even have to sneak past any policemen! It was all so normal, for committing what Buffy imagined was a felony. Well, it would have been a felony if they weren’t in the illustrious company of one Mac Taylor, CSI investigator, ex-Marine - crusader for truth, justice, and the American way – and occasional pain in her arse, go her for the Britishism, leading them hither and fro into the latest nondescript and somewhat condemned-looking building.
The layout was basically the same, circles of bright red wringing the floor, triangles bisecting their perimeters, and incomprehensible squiggles at the edges. At least, that’s all Mac Taylor could see. And whatever his science brain told him, Buffy didn’t wanna guess at that stuff; the Slayer played to her strengths and the difference between DNA and RNA and Locard’s Theory wasn’t one of them. Her eyes could see past the obfuscating veil that masked the squiggles for what they were: runes. But she was rather sure Ethan saw even more that she did. Ask her to read the scene of a battle, and Buffy could tell you the make, model, and color of the people fighting. There was a beauty and definition in the broken glass, splintered walls, and drops of blood, all shed and created at the height of fighting, when the battle-blood flows darkest through adrenaline filled veins and breaths come faster for the fear of death and failure and the exhilaration of life and success. But this wasn’t a battle or a skirmish or a fight, even a one-sided one, it was a sacrifice, a slaughter, and offering to gods she didn’t know or comprehend.
That was why Ethan was needed. The police were completely lost. Buffy had a vague map, but the mage that wandered through the designs on the floor was going to be their guiding light. Even if it wasn’t his usual occupation, even if he kicked and screamed and cursed that whole way, Ethan Rayne was going to be a… hero. She’d better not let him know until it over.
The man in question hadn’t said a word, until he crouched over one of the ruins, muttering under his breath about having to kneel on the dirty floor like a common magician. Ethan Rayne was anything but common, such plebian designations were as far beneath him as the Slayer’s real hair color was to the world. He carefully studied the lines on the floor, the direction the rune was written, the precision of the markings. It was often easy to tell how much experience a magic-user had by looking at their circle-casting. Newbies’ hands tended to waiver, messy drawings and lopsided circles. Most of the magically inclined folk needed at least a few years to discover the best methods for their personal needs and what they were good at, just like anything else really. To Ethan’s highly trained eye, these markings were perfect, impossibly so. There were no breaks or unintended overlapping lines or smudges outside the lines. Physically speaking, that kind of perfection wasn’t possible. So, however had done this had used magic to make create their circle. That was a no-no, leading all kinds of messed up summonings and unleashings of bad things when magics cross-contaminated each other. Or, a more chilling thought, was that whoever these wankers were worshipping had manifested the entire thing itself.
The mage stood to his feet, as swiftly as he was able, and as quickly as safety and common sense would allow, Ethan rushed over to the other five points in the circle, taking in the different runes laid out on the ground, including the one at the very center.
Which brought everything back to: “Bugger.”
“What? What does that mean?” A put-upon Mac Taylor moved towards the Englishman, while Buffy closed her eyes and looked to the ceiling with a stereotypical ‘why me?’ expression on her face.
Completely ignoring the CSI, Ethan addressed Buffy. “We’ve got problems, Slayer.”
Buffy’s eyes darted open and cut to his in a warning about names best left unspoken. “Explain, please.”
The edge of politeness didn’t disguise the command in her words. Ethan went on to deliver his bad news. “You see the runes on the floor?”
Before Buffy could respond, Mac interjected. “Like the ancient Norse alphabet, those runes? There’s nothing but meaningless scribbles on the floor.”
“You less than magically inclined folks, those who don’t know about the creatures behind the curtain, wouldn’t be able to see them. Nature’s little joke, as it were, keeping the blind blinded in hopes the bad things won’t be able to see them.”
The Slayer jumped back into the conversation, “I see them just fine. It’s okay, Mac Taylor. It’s normal that you wouldn’t be able to see them.”
Ethan listed off each rune like they were a death sentence. “Lagu. Berkano. Dagaz. Algiz. All reversed, drawing energy from the one the center: mannaz.”
Freezing to near motionlessness, Buffy stared directly into Ethan’s eyes. This was Not Good, on an epic scale. “In this context, what do they mean?”
“They were drawn counterclockwise, starting with lagu to the west. Meaning: fear, withering, madness, suicide. Then berkano to the south, meaning: abandonment, deceit. Dagaz to the east, meaning: ending, opposition, sunset. Algiz to the north, meaning: hidden danger, consumption by gods. Finally, in the center is mannaz. Meaning: the Self, mankind, divine structure. Somebody is trying very hard to suck out the life and light of mankind by sacrificing the best and most shining examples of humanity to rebirth their god.”
“I’m guessing you don’t mean you don’t mean the god of kittens and rainbows.”
“No, something else, something old, older than the stars, older than this incarnation of the world, something from the before times, a monster that monsters feared.”
“Bugger.” It didn’t sound any better in an American accent.
Mac Taylor wasn’t a happy man. It had become obvious to him during the course of Buffy and Ethan’s discussion, that the pair was crazy. Gods, ancient alphabets, even more ancient monsters, it was insane. He was insane for going along with it. What kind of proof did he really have, beyond his own experiences and Sheldon’s discordant ramblings and whatever had Don willing to believe this stuff. Each of them were hardly easy men to fool but it could happen. Maybe they had been slipped psychotropic compounds or suggestive narcotics or were just plain naïve. Anything was more plausible than the idea that some kind of hell creature was being summoned to suck the life out of human beings.
“What is this? A Dungeons and Dragons meeting? A discussion of various alternative cooking recipes? No. Just, no. Magic isn’t real. I was an idiot for believing any of this in the first place.”
Buffy and Ethan looked at each other, knowing the scientist was three microseconds away from rationalizing away his experiences at any cost. It just wouldn’t do for their easy access to police files to kick them out.
With a grace that belied this age and past, Ethan Rayne lunged up from where he was crouched on the floor towards the wayward man. He reached out with both arms in a wide gesture.
“Does this look like a game to you?”
Before Mac’s eyes, bloody fingerprints appeared on the man’s eyelids and in the center of this forehead. His pupils glittered unnaturally bright as his voice sent chills down the hardened veteran’s spine. It spoke to him of wickedness and madness, the intoxication of blood that drove people to dance, drink, and do nasty things until they died. It tempted and appalled him, made him want to cover his ears and turn his head. But the words beat at him, beat inside, because, like it or not, part of him belonged to that voice: tiny part, one that drove him past sanity to solve incomprehensible cases or chase heavily armed suspects or shoot an enemy solider in cold blood. Mac Taylor held as much Order as any human could, yet even in the midst of all that rationale and morality, Chaos still held sway. He didn’t understand things in such terms, but the Marine knew that Rayne was his opposite, his coin-twin, his mirror-shadow.
Perhaps that was why they didn’t get along. Or, as Mac looked into the blood-stained face of Ethan Rayne, it was because he didn’t want to look down and see the blood on his own hands.
“Put it away.”
Buffy’s voice rang into the silence of the building, halting whatever dick-measuring contest that was happening. Warrior or not, she was still a female and couldn’t understand men’s fascination with trying to show each other up.
“Put it away before you wake anything else up!”
Mac’s body swivel to follow the woman’s line of sight and nearly passed out.
“I think he sees dead people,” Ethan’s voice mocked the flabbergasted detective.
“You saw that movie, really? Doesn’t seem quite your style,” Buffy’s tone was somewhere between amused and shocked.
“Can we focus on the GHOST in the room!”
Mac’s shrill yell penetrated the light-hearted aura the other two were trying to project.
It was that annoying Brit, Rayne that answered him. “You’re wrong on both counts there, mate. This is a warehouse, not a room. And that isn’t a ghost.”
As the con man sauntered closer to the opaque figure that was not a ghost, Mac only vaguely considered the idea of shooting him. Really, only for a few seconds… a minute at most.
“It’s a revenant. Something left over when everything else is taken away from a person. This area is almost a psychic ‘cold’ spot. Something has been doing a damn good job of covering their tracks. But a revenant is a strictly human phenomenon. It’s not a soul or a spirit. Think of it as a… vessel. A vessel for a message or a memory or a warning, it takes something truly… shattering to make one. So, play nice.”
Rayne almost sounded like he knew what he was talking about. Mac tried to focus on the translucent body, but his mind had a hard time grasping any distinguishing features. It was as if the face had been worn away, like water eats at rock. The only thing he could say for sure was that the person… thing had been male.
As the trio drew closer, the revenant began to speak.
“I was the first. I was alone. I wanted the world to recognize me, to know my face and revere my name. I don’t remember them now. Who was I? I am become…”
The voice changed from empty monotone to a sound like swarming bees, a sharpened buzz cutting deep into the words. Something flooded into the figure, filling it up.
“I become We. We become! We become me! Once there was one, now there are many! We came the same way, called the same name. Unforgettable! Invincible! We are an army in flesh! Talents and memory and potential as one!”
As the voice returned to its original timber, the otherworldly menace quietly faded away.
“I was the first. I called the name and It answered. Then came the others, the We. It takes us and are It. But I was not enough. Those who call are never enough. We are never enough for what It wants. It needs more…”
“I was the first.”
There’s a flash, a glimpse of a face that Mac presses into his memory. Finally, something for a scientist with a fully equipped, state of the art lab to do! He’d find this guy, whoever he was. This is the first real clue the CSI has gotten and he’s going to run away with it, even if he has to drag the entire department with him.
Then, the figure dissolves and only the three beings of flesh are left behind.
While Buffy isn’t happy with the way things turned out, she has to keep things in perspective. They have time, not a lot, but some. Mr. Marine-Scientist had jetted off in his black suburban to try and put a name to their mystery man, thrilled to have something semi-normal to do.
Someone really should explain to him what a cliché was.
Eh, job for another day.
Now it was just her and her very own conscripted Chaos mage. Ethan hadn’t really moved, still standing towards the edge of the circle, staring at the universe, magic, and everything in between. He hadn’t said much since Mac had left, preferring to keep whatever theories and thoughts he had to himself.
“We’re kind of different, aren’t we?”
Buffy asked this question to the seemingly empty air.
“What are you twittering on about over there?”
Ethan’s caustic reply did nothing but get her to walk over to him.
“I mean, we are different. As in, not the same, as in, behaving outside our expected parameters, as in…”
“Your point, Slayer. Get to your bloody point! I’m standing at the scene of what is probably some kind of apocalyptic ground zero, and I am not in the mood for meditative ramblings!”
That was the thing about Ethan Rayne, Buffy mused to herself. He would gladly see the world turned over, like ants running haphazardly over a destroyed hill, but the mage didn’t want to end it. He wasn’t above a few murders or accidental killings and a lot of mayhem, but the man lacked the kind of hatred or desperation needed to want to annihilate life as most people knew it. It warmed her long cold heart in some small way.
“It’s just… we’ve both taken the long road to get here. I mean, if certain unlikely things hadn’t happened… bad and good things. If I was a little more innocent and naïve, or if you were a little more callous and hell bent on revenge, we wouldn’t be here.”
Ethan turned to look at the woman in disbelief. “Don’t kid yourself, Slayer. If you hadn’t kidnapped me, I wouldn’t be here. If you hadn’t dragged me, kicking and protesting, into this mess of a situation, I would be gladly plotting my revenge on dear old Rupert and his merry band of meatheads.”
“Maybe. Maybe, I’d just be hitting the state line between Mississippi and Louisiana, heading for New Orleans and all the voodoo queens I could find. But we aren’t.”
She took a deep breath and held it for a few seconds. “I had a dream.”
“Congratulations, your psyche is still in working condition. You want a medal to go with that?”
Buffy continued as if Ethan had kept his sarcastic witticism to himself. “I had a Slayer dream. I haven’t had one of those in years, not since… Sunnydale.”
Her tone darkened with the name of her old hometown. Neither one of them held any real fondness for the doomed place, bitter memories and betrayals tainting the few good moments.
Ethan was silent as he pondered the possibilities.
“This whole set-up stinks of destiny and manipulation. I hate being manipulated.”
The quiet menace in the mage’s voice didn’t surprise the Slayer. She understood how lonesome it could be to be guided by some invisible and implacable hand that didn’t care if you lived, died, or broke into millions of pieces. But for the man before her, it was more than that. He was more than that. As a Chaos mage, Ethan Rayne was the closest thing to unfettered as any human might be. He was ruled by his whims, by his madness, and, occasionally, by his god. Although gods of Chaos tended to be pretty hands off.
Yet here they were, the Slayer and the strongest Chaos mage of a generation side-by-side, waiting for the end to begin.
Then the moment was over, and they were just two people, trying to stem the tide that had been coming for thousands of years.
“Whatever this thing is, that bloke is the key to this whole thing. He was one the to bring it to this dimension, to wake it from its slumber.”
“So if we eliminate him, we destroy the whole hydra?”
Catching the glance the man shot her, Buffy exasperatingly replied, “I know things! I read things! The British don’t have a monopoly on mythology, buddy!”
“Far be it from me to say anything to the contrary. Still, if Mr. Scientist comes through with a name, we might actually have a chance…. Unless you planned on fighting a shape-shifting monster with the ability to suck the purity and goodness out of people while clouding their thoughts and emotions?”
“I might not have a choice, actually.”
The Slayer’s voice was steady, but the way she ran her hands over the handles of her weapons belied her slight nervousness. As the woman took in the warehouse, she turned to Ethan, “Maybe this isn’t the best place for this discussion.”
“What discussion, the how bloody screwed we are conversation? We could do that anywhere.”
Darting her eyes to where the revenant had originally appeared, Buffy went on, “I don’t want the bad guy to be able to trace us, we might lead him back to the doc.”
The mage looked at her in confusion for a second before bowing gracefully. “Then lead the way out, madam.”
Buffy glared at the man, but did as requested, taking the man back to her bike and gesturing for him to get on.
Ethan sighed, rather morosely and far too overdramatically.
“None have suffered like I have suffered.”
That’s exactly what every forty-something year old man thinks when he wraps his arms around a twenty-something woman.
Buffy ended up driving the now dynamic duo back to her somewhat shitty hotel room. There were no bugs, no mysterious stains, rooms didn’t rent by the half hour, and the manager knew enough to leave her alone. She’d stayed in better and in far worse, especially those first weeks on the road when she hadn’t yet developed the sense prolific travelers got about picking decent motels. It was a handy thing.
Ethan, apparently, wasn’t bothered anyway, or was too busy being Ethan to comment. He pulled out a chair and threw his legs up on the bed, projecting an aura of nonchalance just to annoy her, Buffy was sure. “So what now, oh mighty Slayer?”
“I have a plan.”
“Those four words fill me with an indescribable dread…. Terror, dismay, alarm, fright, horror, anxiety… oh wait, those work.”
Buffy smiled tightly. “Ha-bloody-ha. I have a plan. It a really bad plan, actually.”
“It requires almost certain death, involving semi-innocent civilians, various nefarious and uncontrollable magics, the destruction of property, and probably murder.”
“Our deaths, or someone else’s?”
Ethan’s priorities were the same as ever. It was almost reassuring.
“More mine than yours, more someone else’s than mine, and likely than not everyone dies anyway. Kinda like a Shakespearean tragedy, actually.”
Something very much like joy stole over the mage’s face. “That sounds like my kind of soiree. And here I was thinking you didn’t know how to show a devotee of Chaos a good time.”
Nodding in confirmation, Buffy took out her cell phone and moved away to make a call. “Hey, Seth I need a favor…”
“And who told you about Shakespeare?”
He had done it.
Mac Taylor had done it. He had probably scared half of the lab into the hiding and the other into an early grave, but he had done it! He had identified their not-a-ghost.
Jacob Bryans had gone missing almost one year ago after leading an almost painfully mundane life. No girlfriend, estranged from his family, mount debts, boring job. That last one was the only reason anyone had noticed the man was gone. Just gone one day, no blood, no signs of a struggle, bank accounts still open with a little money in them. Just… gone away.
Until Mac Taylor had seen him in a ghostly figure at a crime scene and brought his case back to life. If this guy had anything to do with the murders that occurred or the kidnapping and assault of his CSI, Mac would find out. The scientist in him would find out and the solider in him would relay this information to the appropriate sources. Then the man in him would watch as Buffy made sure these animals could never hurt anyone again.
His first call was to Flack, to check on Sheldon and tell him they had a lead. His next was to Buffy, letting her know the guy’s name and where he used to live. She seemed a bit pre-occupied and promised him that everything would work out like it should. Her last words scared the crap out of him.
“I want you to know that even though sometimes things happen that don’t make sense, that seem like they go against everything you know and believe in, it’s all for a reason. You’ve just got to trust the reason.”
She paused here a moment before going on, “Trust the reason. Trust me. I’m going to make it all okay again. That’s what people like me do.”
“Buffy – wait! What?”
The dial tone was loud in his hand, almost startling in its starkness. Mac pressed the ‘End’ button and set the phone on his desk, resting his head on his hands.
It wasn’t five minutes later that the phone rang again and this time there was no confusion. Flack’s name flashed across the screen and the weary scientist answered with a tired, “Don?”
“Hawkes is gone.”
“What! Not fifteen minutes ago you said he was fine!”
“Mac, he was! I left the room to call a few buddies who would dig up some dirt on your guy. I think I heard the phone ring, and I guess Hawkes picked it up. When I came back, Hawkes was gone, and the front door was shut but unlocked.”
The frantic pacing of Mac’s heart slowed marginally. He didn’t know if he could go through this again. “So no one forced him to leave.”
“Not physically, although with the way things have been going lately, I don’t know how much of a comfort that is,” was Don’s sardonic reply. “I don’t think he was forced at all, though.”
“Seems like Dr. Hawkes was nice enough to leave a note. It says, ‘Don’t worry. Everything’s going to be okay. That’s what people like her do.’”
Mac’s blood pressure skyrocketed.
Five Minutes Ago:
Sheldon could tell that they had discovered something. Don had all of a sudden gone tense, like wolf about to chase down its prey, and walked into another room to call some of this cop friends. Sheldon wasn’t too upset at being left out of the loop. He didn’t know how much help he could be, really. His normally collected and analytical mind was still thrown off by the revelations that shaken his world view. Monsters under the bed, able to reach inside your head and take you away. Monsters making up the world.
His cell phone rang and ‘Tiger’ ran across his call display. He smiled and picked up.
“Sheldon, I want you to listen to me and think very carefully about what I’m going to ask you to do. I need your help, and I think you need to see this thing put down. It’ll be dangerous, but I’ll protect you. I’ll do my best to make sure you get your life back.”
As Buffy spoke to him, Sheldon continued to smile, contemplating how many ways this could go wrong and how right it felt to help this woman. After she finished talking, he finally spoke.
“All you had to do was ask, Slayer. All you ever had to do was ask.”