Yes, you guessed who the main villain was. But this is a substantially weakened main villain, with fewer followers than in an altered universe a year and a half in the future, so it’s not quite the same.
X X X XX
Jane Lane looked into the driveway when she heard the motorcycle, then checked her watch. “Figures,” she said wryly. “She said she’d be here at around 4 PM on June 29, 2002, and by golly, here she is, and it’s 3:59. I’d tease her about being a minute early, but she’d probably just tell me my watch was fast.”
The TV said, “They’re back from the dead -- and they’re holding up banks! Robbin’ zombies, next on Sick, Sad World
!” Jane flipped off the TV and headed downstairs.
Jane had been happy to get Daria’s calls in the past few days. Really. But this still wasn’t quite the Daria she’d connected with on the plane from Los Angeles. It was kinda sorta but not entirely. She was still quite the cynic, that little Daria Faith Morgendorffer; but now she was a cynic who cussed and showed emotion on seemingly random words. Kind of unusual to hear a monotone maybe three-quarters of the time and cussing in a Boston accent the rest.
Not that Jane had an objection to cussing; heavens no. But it was evidence that Daria had been, in a very real sense, two people, and still wasn’t sure how the pieces added up.
For her part, Jane was still willing, and hoping, that the pieces added up to something remotely interested. Her high school years had contained exactly three people whom she respected on any kind of intellectual level -- and Mack had turned out to be, briefly, one of the bad guys, though he seemed to have gotten over it.
And really, there wasn’t much holding her to Lawndale anymore except Casa Lane itself, and it had managed without most of its nominal owners for years. The last time her wandering parents had wandered through town, she’d browbeaten them -- with a little help from Trent -- into paying the mortgage up for two years in advance. Small enough recompense for nearly getting them kicked out of the place her sophomore year, but fortunately she’d compromised her dignity enough to convince the bank people to give them one more month when they came a-knocking on the front door.
It had occurred to her many times that one shouldn’t have to argue one’s parents into doing the minimum necessary work to be counted as vaguely responsible, but she’d long since become accustomed to the fact that Trent was the only member of the family besides her whose sense of responsibility reached even that level.
Now he was on a summer tour with the Spiral -- things were going well, so far, but no contract yet -- and she was trying to make a living selling her art. Half her time she spent making art in the styles of the Old Masters for a place called Gary’s Gallery in Baltimore; and the other half on her work. She’d made more profit from the former than the latter, dammit, but enough on her own that she wasn’t completely discouraged.
And she had managed to score that showing in Sunnydale, California, even if the woman who’d judged her fit had died, leaving the place in the hands of someone who thought big-eyed Mexican children were the height of artistic taste.
Still, she had a good chunk of change stored up -- enough to let her go on this road trip with Daria, anyway. Enough to let figure out where things stood.
And there was the knock on the door. Time to get this show on the road.
X X X X X
The door was answered on the third knock. “State your business,” Jane said.
“Killing vampires and the people who become them.”
“Oh, that’s too bad. We were going for ‘eating pizza,” Jane said. “But we do have a lovely array of parting gifts.”
“My parting gift’s gonna be a boot to your hindquarters if you don’t let me in.”
Jane stepped back and said, “If you can.”
Walking in, Daria said, “You remembered that part of it.”
“Hey,” Jane said, “Learning that the ghoulies and goblins and long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night are real doesn’t happen every day. I have no desire to die a second sooner than I’m supposed to.”
“Smart move,” Daria said.
“How’d things go in Texas?”
“Saw a man die. Twisted the knife a little beforehand. Not that I think he thought about it then, or is thinking about it now.”
Jane snorted. “Not a believer in the afterlife, huh?”
“Nope. Vamps exist, magic exists, and I sure as shit exist, but One Above All? Naah. I’ve seen too much to think otherwise. You?”
As they walked to the kitchen, Jane said, “Never really thought about it that much. I suppose I think there’s something out there, I’m just not sure who or what or whether they care about us at all.” She sat down. “Want some pizza?”
Daria looked at the table, blank of everything except a free-form sculpture, and said, “I guess they changed the shape during my years in the joint.”
“Ha ha, Morgendorffer. I was going to suggest we go to Pizza King.”
“Has your well-trained army of garden gnomes been attaching the necessary sidecar to my bike?”
“Nope,” Jane said. “I save the garden gnomes for when I need people quietly murdered.”
“Smart of you. So, no on the sidecar, huh?”
Jane shook her head and then said, “Walking distance. Only a bit over a mile. Shouldn’t take us that long.” She quirked a smile and said, “Besides, with your superpowers, you can probably run it in two minutes flat.”
Thinking, Daria said, “Dunno if I ever measured my speed, but I don’t think Slayers can actually run faster than ordinary people. We can probably maintain it for longer, though.”
“I’m up for running it if you are,” Jane said. “It’s the one semi-athletic thing I do fairly well. Just let me put on a pair of sneakers.”
“Are you challenging me?”
Another quirked smile. “Nothing so formal. Just like to see what I’m dealing with. Already seen you fight. I have no illusions that you couldn’t kick my butt from here to next Tuesday if you wanted to.”
“Why? What happens next Tuesday?”
“That‘s when the garden gnomes get back.” She finished putting on a pair of sneakers. “Ready when you are.”
X X X X X
They jogged to the place together, for the most part. “Don’t hold back on my account, Morgendorffer,” Jane said.
“I thought you wanted to eat pizza and not dust, yo,” Daria said.
“Yes, but I also said I wanted to see what you were capable of,” Jane said. “The shopping center’s two blocks ahead. Don’t hold back on my account.”
“Hey, it’s your funeral,” Daria said, smiling slightly to let Jane know that she didn’t really mean it. Then she began to sprint. After going fifty feet or so, she turned around and saw a grim smile on Jane’s face; she’d begun sprinting as well.
Daria still beat her to the front of Pizza King by a good 45 seconds or so. By the time Jane showed up, Daria had posed herself leaning casually against the wall, saying, “What took you so long?”
Panting, Jane said, “Bite me, Morgendorffer.”
“First dust, then me. You gotta make up your mind. What exactly are you in the mood to eat?”
“Right now, a little crow, though I did ask for it.”
“Wonder if they have that as a topping?” Daria said, nodding towards the Pizza King door.
“I don’t see why not,” Jane said. “I’ve seen people get strawberries and whipped cream. And this is with the processed cheese and tomatoey sauce.” At Daria’s raised eyebrows, she said, “Honest injun. It was a bet among the members of the football team. Kevin – the quarterback – won. Of course, the team had to forfeit the next game because the team members couldn’t leave the bathroom for the next three days.”
“They were that fucking stupid?” Daria asked.
“Heh. Their collective IQ, except for Mack –“
“Mack the knight?” Daria remembered the one member of the Knights of Byzantium who had seemed like a halfway decent human being. He’d had his mental structure drained by Glory, but Willow had managed to restore him.
Then she’d figured out a way to restore everyone, except for Daria, who’d decided to stay Daria Faith rather than splitting back to Daria Lynn and Faith. Sneaking Red into the local mental ward had been a bitch and a half; the locals weren’t nearly as clueless as the inhabitants of Sunnydale. Of course, people in decade-long comas weren’t that clueless.
“One and the same,” Jane said as they entered the shop. “Anyway, combined they were about as smart as your average sea urchin. And not nearly as much fun to talk to. Once we had to forfeit another game because they drank themselves into an UltraCola stupor.” Daria had never heard of UltraCola; maybe it was a regional brand.
They ordered a large pepperoni and sausage and sat down to wait for it. “Oh, no,” Jane said. “I was hoping he’d gotten arrested by now. Do me a favor. Don’t turn around and try to look inconspicuous.”
“Sorry; Slayer powers don’t include invisibility,” Daria said. “Why? Is this someone likely to start trouble?”
“Trouble by your definition? No,” Jane said. “He’s not going to attempt to murder anyone or sacrifice them to their dark gods. Hit on us, though, that’s a different story.” She buried her head in her hands. “Too late. He’s spotted us.”
Now Daria looked, and saw someone who appeared to be Howdy Doody grown up and come to life walking towards them. “If my eyes fail me not, it’s the delectable Jane Lane,” he said. “And who is this lovely lady?” he added, looking at Daria.
Ah. Resident sleazeball. Every place had them.
“I’m Daria,” she said. “And you were just leaving.”
“But,” he protested in a voice that came across like the worst casting for James Bond, ever, “I just got here. Surely I should be giv—aaack!”
The scream happened because Daria had gotten up and brought the man’s forearm up, behind his back, until it was maybe inches short of breaking. “I didn’t hear me asking a question,” she said. “Jane, you hear a question?”
Jane, who had a shocked look on her face, recovered quickly and said, “Nope. No question here. If I were you I’d take the lady at her word, Upchuck.” Upchuck
“Ow!” he said, practically whining. “Okay! I will!”
“Good. ‘cause I really don’t want to see you near me, or Jane, again. Should the building catch on fire and we’re in front of the exit, I expect to see you go through the window. At the far side of the store.” She released the arm. “You got me?”
“I got you,” he said, rubbing his arm. As he walked away, he said, “Feisty!” but since he was walking away, Daria didn’t see the point in chasing after the idiot.
Right then, she noticed that other people were looking at her. One or two were clapping. She bowed slightly and said in an even tone, “Thank you, and this concludes this episode of ‘what to do about sleazy Don Juans” theatre. But be sure to tune in tomorrow for another exciting episode.”
The pizza was dropped off as soon as Daria sat down by a clerk who didn’t linger to accept thanks. Upchuck, meanwhile, had moved over the counter, where he kept sending nervous glances Daria’s way. Least, they’d damn well better be nervous glances.
Daria tore into a slice and was through it and going for a second one when Jane said, “You realize that didn’t actually stop him, right?”
“As long as he knows I can break his arm without breaking a sweat, I think he’ll behave himself. If he leers when I ain’t looking, there’s nothing I can do about it.”
“Would you actually?”
“Break his arm?” Daria asked. “No. Not without much greater provocation. He doesn’t seem like the type who’s ever crossed over from words to deeds. Am I wrong?”
Reaching for her own second piece, Jane said, “Does ‘deeds’ count staring at girls through binoculars? Because he’s never gotten physical, but he’s creeped out almost every woman close to his age in Lawndale.”
Daria had just opened her mouth to respond when the front door slammed open and three men in black robes whose eyes were gone, replaced by some sort of freaky symbols, walked in. They had knives in their hands. Despite their lack of eyes, they seemed to be looking around the room for something or someone. Odds were it wasn’t pizza. Her luck wasn’t that good.
People started screaming and running. Upchuck picked up a chair and threw it through the front window, then jumped out of it. People followed him – everyone who could. That left her, Jane, and three guys, who backed into the wall and picked up a chair, each.
Then all three focused on her.
“Jane,” Daria said. “Get up and get behind me, now. When you get the chance, run. They seem to be here for me.”
Jane nodded. “You don’t need to tell me twice,” she said.
The men with knives got closer, and charged as one.