The Calling (Part I)
Author notes: - While some movies of the 21st century we know about are cited in this story, they are themselves alternate versions. The difference lies in what the people on the Earth of this story consider as realistic and the fact their world map is different from ours. Let’s take a typical example with one movie I cited: Mr. and Mrs. Smith. The concept and the main story stay the same: two elite assassins married to each other and believing the other to be normal until everything goes south. What changes is that the high-tech equipment they use is high-tech… according to the standards of their world instead of ours. Both of them are therefore cyborgs with camouflaged implants. Likewise, the battle in the mall at the end included combat robots that Jane Smith hacked using her cyber-brain, turning them against their attackers. - On another point, the date of birth of some characters has been moved up by 16 years to match the 1996 to 2012 ‘base year move’
--- Elizabeth’s room, Los Angeles, 7 September 2012 22:17 (Tokyo, 8 September 15:17) ---
“It’s a pity we cannot talk more often…” said Elizabeth.
“The problem of time zones… Guess it’s the same for Dawn when she wants to talk to Celia.”
She looked at the screen of her laptop and at the image of Kokoa on it. The redhead was sitting on the couch of a living room whose walls were almost covered with exotic hand-to-hand weapons, including a few swords that looked right out of a Final Fantasy game, a mug of something hot in her hands.
From what Lisa had learnt in their previous calls, the living room was actually hers, a part of her apartment in the family compound. But the décor was secondary to her. Her eyes was always drawn back to her friend. Like her, Kokoa was rather petite and they had joked about waiting for the next growth spurt.
Elizabeth had however managed to convince her to change her hairstyle, abandoning the double ponytail that made her look more childish in favor of free-flowing curls. She blushed as Kokoa moved on the couch to put her empty mug on the coffee table, revealing maybe just a little too much of what was under her tank top.
“Kokoa… do you have a boyfriend?”
“No… it’s not that I’m not interested in finding someone but… problems on your side?”
“I’ll just say you were right. Mister Jerk decided last Monday he couldn’t be seen with an unpopular girl…”
“What did you do?”
“I hesitated to kick him in the nuts but… I felt he just wasn’t worth the detention I would get for it.”
“Did he do in public or private?”
“Private… I have to admit that he had at least the decency to do it in private and face to face.”
“Poor reasons, decent execution… Ignore him. He is not worthy of you.”
Elizabeth blushed again. There was something in Kokoa’s tone, something that gave the blonde teen the impression of an unvoiced ‘for only I am’. There was something in that girl that just made her feel…
“I think that you might want to change schools at some point,” continued the redhead, cutting through Lisa’s thoughts.
“Mom is thinking about moving… I would like to go to Japan but…”
“Yeah, not necessarily easy for your kaasan to find a job in Tokyo or for you to adapt…”
“Well… Mom seems to like that Ryo guy.”
Kokoa sighed, then started to manipulate some controls on her computer.
“Lisa-chan, I’m sending to your computer a ciphering software. The keys will come with an encrypted email whose key is the name of the high score holder on the Sailor V machine.”
“Wow… why the spy… understood, I install that software and we can talk more freely. I’ll call you back in five.”
She cut the communication and started to install the software. As a child, he had been quite skillful on computer stuff as it was part of a common childhood dream for her generation: working in space, perhaps even being on the crew of the first mission to Jupiter.
She realized now that a good part of the shallow, popular girl she had been had been caused by her desire to please her father. Hank Summers had definite ideas on what a girl should be and proficient with technology wasn’t one of them. The whole ice skating thing had been his idea of a decent girl activity after all.
Since the beginning of the school year, since she had begun to not care about being popular anymore, her grades had started to rise again and she had started to think again about that dream of going into space. While she was still a little embarrassed to admit it, she was learning to like math and physics again thanks to Dawn’s nerd friends.
“Here… all set, now the email… Minako.”
She called again, watching the ciphering protocol put itself in place in a corner of her screen.
“Looks like the channel is secured, Kokoa.”
“Good… sorry about this, but there are some things I wouldn’t like the American intelligence services to catch.”
A month ago, Elizabeth would have dismissed this as some kind of prank or conspiracy craziness. With the clues about her mother’s past decidedly not being normal piling up however…
“Is Ryo a spy?”
“A former mercenary according to what Akua-neesan told me. Now he is the City Hunter.”
“Sounds like a superhero name…”
“In a way… you’re right,” said Kokoa with a smile. “But what he’s doing… there was an old American show called the A-Team.”
“I saw the movie… a date with Jeffrey. So he’s helping people?”
“Yes but what he is doing is often not really legal as you can guess. Have you already heard about Joy Law?”
“The action movie star? Yes, Celia told me the promotion tour in Japan for her last movie was… a little rough.”
“That’s one way to put it… Xiang-Ying was actually replacing Joy Law as she was targeted by one of the political factions of her home country because she was one of the royal mistresses.”
“I think I heard about that on the news. Wasn’t the king a double?”
“Yes and the faction that replaced the king didn’t want her to blurt out. The City Hunter was hired to protect her.”
“But… isn’t Xiang-Ying only nineteen?”
“Have you seen an anime called Noir?”
“A pity… you might want to check it. Xiang-Ying is trained to a degree, she can do things most people think are reserved to mangas…”
“Kokoa… and Mom? I have more and more the impression she’s of the same species as that Saeba guy.”
Elizabeth saw the look on her friend and guessed what was happening. Kokoa knew the truth and had probably promised not to tell. Knowing how big the Shuzen girl was about sticking to her word…
“You gave your word, right?”
“Yes, sorry. Xiang-Ying asked me to let your mother decide when she will tell you about it.”
“That’s all right… I know how important it is for you and it’s one of the things I really like in you… I’ll ask Mom directly. Good evening, Kokoa-chan.”
“Good night, Lisa-chan.”
--- Apex Arcology, Tokyo, at the same time ---
Kokoa closed her eyes as the communication shut.
“Thank Kali, I couldn’t smell her…”
She got up and talked the halls of the Residence, soon reaching the library. Just as she had thought, the person she wanted to see was there, reading in one of the armchairs near the windows. Kokoa sat in a nearby seat.
“How… Do you remember Elizabeth?”
“The blonde girl during the festival? Yes, I remember her. I must say I am happy to see you making friends.”
“It… I don’t know what to think. When I see her cry, I want to slaughter whoever did it to her. When I see her smile, I feel…”
“Like you can hear her every heartbeat and want nothing more than taste her?”
Kokoa nodded, while Akasha smiled benevolently at her.
“Could it be that… I don’t know, stories rather speak about…”
“Butterflies in the stomach?”
Akasha smiled as she saw her stepdaughter blush.
“You know as well as me that our physiology is different from the one of humans. For one, we don’t have periods like human women do.”
“Yeah… I remember what you taught us: our control over our own body is so great that we actually will ourselves to… be fertile when we want a baby.”
There was also the unsaid reason that both of them understood. The bleeding that came with periods was just out of question for a species aroused by the scent of blood.
“Some signs are therefore also different for us. Blood… it’s always about the blood. When we look for a boyfriend or a girlfriend… wanting to share blood with him or her is a sure sign of desire.”
Kokoa played with one of her curls as she nodded dreamily, thinking about that day in Akihabara, with the sun playing on Lisa’s fair skin, making her magnificent hair look like strands of gold… and framing so nicely her pretty neck. Her stepmother was right, it was always about blood. It had also been it for her sister Moka, the taste of Tsukune’s blood on her lips triggering the events that finally led her to be engaged to him.
“But… she’s a girl… I… won’t Father…”
“Hotaru-san once told me that in the old days, vampires looked for certain qualities in a mate and that gender was… secondary. It is only because we are so few now that having children became more important. But now that Hotaru-san is back, things are different. If she makes you happy, Kokoa-chan, I think that no one in the clan, your father included, will object. If things go all right between you… I think you should offer to sire her.”
Kokoa had a deep blush. While ghouls reproduced like the vermin they were, turning a human into a true vampire was a rare occurrence. It was a very intimate process, as the vampire repeatedly shared his lifeforce with the childe, often as part of the act of lovemaking. Before Hotaru-sama gave them back the secret of amrita, it had also been risky. The transfusion was often imperfect and the childe degenerated in a soulless ghoul.
She bit her finger, soon feeling the taste of her own blood. The idea of kissing and tasting Elizabeth was driving her mad. She felt her stepmother’s hand on hers, taking it away from her mouth and giving it a lick to help the bite mark to regenerate. Their blood was too precious to be wiped out by a mere rag.
“I… but what if she doesn’t like me that way? I don’t want to…”
“Then she’ll still be your friend, Kokoa-chan. Just don’t rush things. You both have time. If she feels the same way, things will develop naturally. On the other hand… I’ll talk to your father. I think it would be good for you to broaden your horizons… maybe as an exchange student in California?”
Kokoa hugged her stepmother.
--- Los Angeles, an hour later ---
Artemis slipped out of Elizabeth’s room, letting her sleep. He passed the one of Dawn, seeing her on her computer. From the look of the webpage she was on, she was busy collating information. Some things never change…
He sighed as he was about to enter Joyce’s room. What he was about to do was decidedly not the usual procedure but… he phased through the door and saw Joyce kneeling, eyes shut, the pieces of a dismantled pistol around her. Her hands started to move like a blur. It wasn’t haste. Each move was perfectly precise, fetching every piece without the slightest hesitation and assembling them. She’s not particularly discreet about it… Here we go…
A swift move, a click and barely a second for the charged and cocked pistol to be pointed straight at his head. She’s only slightly less trigger-happy than Uranus…
“I wondered when you would make your move, bakeneko,” said Joyce. “So… as it seems you can talk, start telling me what you’re doing here.” She thinks I’m a Yokai… will make things both simpler for her to believe me and harder for her to trust me.
“Well… My name is really Artemis and I’m indeed a magical cat. However, I was born like this and I’m quite happy with having only one tail. In fact, I’m more a cousin to the foo dogs.”
“Guardian spirit then… which means two things. First, where is your mate, as Foo Dogs always go in pairs, and second, what are you guarding?”
“I don’t know where Luna is. Like me, she has probably found her way to another of our charges, probably the Princess Serenity as her bond with her is the strongest, just as mine is with… Elizabeth.”
“This is starting to sound like one of those stories with a lot of prophecies… I don’t like them.”
“Well… my former mistress thought that prophecies were boxes created by petty people who wanted to imprison the future… the reasons I’m here have consequences on the future, but they find their roots in the past… To deliver news that will probably please you a lot: Hank Summers is not your daughters’ biological father.”
“If you dare to tell me that you’re a Cat from Outer Space and that I was abducted…”
“Hem…” said Artemis, looking at his tail. “I used to live on Venus so technically… please, don’t shoot!” he added quickly as he could see her finger move on the trigger. “No abduction. Reincarnation spell. The spell finds a suitable woman and implant the fetuses, genetic material of the previous incarnation playing the ‘father’ role. The reason why Dawn and Elizabeth were implanted together is because they were twins in their original life.”
Joyce frowned. Because of Dawn’s obvious GES, genetic tests had been done on both of her daughters when they were born, but it was true that none was done in comparison to Hank’s genome. The doctors had been more interested in comparing the twins’ DNA and see how Dawn’s deviated from the one of her sister.
“So, you were sent to protect them?”
“Rather advise them. Normally, with this spell, the powers of their former life should awake soon...”
“Let’s admit I believe you. This kind of magic is very powerful and its goal rather obvious. When will their former lives take over?”
“They… impossible to say. Memories will leak sooner or later, maybe already started as dreams. How much they can stay their own person or will be overwhelmed by the past… there are just too many unknowns. What I know for sure is that if they’re left alone, if they are not prepared, the probabilities are a lot higher of them becoming who they once were, because it will be the only way for them to control it.”
“Next question: why telling me? I know how you magical people think. You don’t think mundanes should be in the know.”
“Because you’re a warrior. You may have buried it all of those years, but it’s in your blood. I… weighed the pros and cons and putting you directly in the know was the scenario that had the best chance to end without bullet holes in my fur.”
“Except I could decide to get rid of you to protect my daughters.”
“You could, but… I would have liked to have more than 48 hours to observe and take a decision but what I sensed in Elizabeth… it cannot wait, so I decided to trust you.”
“What happened? Is she awakening sooner than expected?”
“No… Dawn already has access to a little of her magic, so the issue would rather be her in that case. There is a second lifeforce clutching to Elizabeth’s.”
Joyce frowned again. Her senses were still rusty but it was true that there has been something off with Elizabeth those last days. She had attributed the small spikes of killing intent to her problems with her former ‘school friends’. But those same problems would leave her vulnerable to possession.
“What is it doing? Leeching her energy? Taking over?”
“Maybe the latter… It seems to act like a symbiont but… I don’t know what it is. I fear its interaction with the magic of her past incarnation.”
Joyce uncocked the pistol and lowered her arm.
“What you’re telling me is coherent with some things I had seen, but not paid enough attention to. So let’s say I believe you, for now. What about my daughters’ past incarnations?”
“Have you ever heard of Sailor V?”
“Maybe. Tell me more.”
“Sailor V’s civilian identity was Minako Aino, a Japanese girl living in Britain at the time I found her. I… an organization called the Dark Agency was starting to gain power and someone had to fight them. I helped her train and master her magic.”
“If Elizabeth is here, then how did Minako die?”
“A battle with her fellow Sailor Senshi, in 1985… It didn’t happen on Earth. They won, but… I was killed too so I’m not sure what exactly happened and my own memories are full of holes. What I know is that I and the others were reincarnated. I think Sailor Saturn managed to survive the battle, but I don’t remember her civilian identity.”
“Sailor V… V stands for Venus, correct?”
“Yes… that’s not her first name. Elizabeth is her third incarnation. The first one… she was called Ishtar then. My memories are… better than they used to be, but still…”
“Ishtar… a Babylonian goddess: or rather someone, an alien the Babylonians worshipped as a goddess, correct?”
“Mostly. Uruk, I mean the planet Venus… it wasn’t always the hell it is now. I remember the warm seas full of delicious fish, the deep jungles and the people. I remember the towers of Esagila. After Skyfall, what the Bible calls the Flood, the survivors came here and told stories.” Gosh… I’m too rusty. I used to be able to read auras before… I don’t think he’s lying but… No more choice. With the weirdness coming, for the sake of my daughters, I must…
“Tomorrow morning, you’ll talk to my daughters. If what you say is true, I will need to… let ‘her’ in again.”
--- Meanwhile, in Elizabeth’s head ---
The Slayer Essence watched as her host was sleeping. It was time for her to start another dream, to make her see the fate of another of her past hosts. She concentrated, sending the memory along the link she had with her host’s soul.
Suddenly, the crystal star over the fountain flared. Tendrils of golden light sprung out of its surface, searching something. The Slayer Essence hissed as they neared and she ran away, but it was already too late. This host wasn’t normal and she wasn’t in control of the mindscape. The glowing tentacles were already holding her and another was rising in front of her, its spear-shaped end opening like a flower that stuck to her brow.
She screamed, more of rage than of pain, as her memories were scanned one by one. Suddenly, all the tendrils retreated, twisting and merging near the fountain to form… a silhouette of golden light. It was a woman in ethereal veils, with six feathery wings, a tail and seven horns on her head. She looked at the Slayer Essence with… pity?
“Poor child… to see you like this… Have faith. Auntie Ishtar will find something. Remember your name, the one the mages took away,” she said before retreating in the crystal.
The voice of the woman… the Slayer Essence knew she had heard it before. The crystal continued to flare, feeding images in the link the Slayer Essence had been using to send a dream to her host. The Essence frowned then shrugged. It wasn’t exactly the dream she had wanted to show, but it was similar enough for her not to care.
--- Elizabeth’s room, Los Angeles, 8 September 2012 7:05 ---
“And another one…” said Elizabeth as she woke up. “This one was a little different though… you don’t know anything about dreams, Artemis?” she added, pushing a little the cat that slept at the bottom of her bed.
She started to tell her dream to Artemis, where she was a girl called Xin Rong in China, at a time she thought was the beginning of the twentieth century.
“… well it was a lot like the other dreams, as the girl fights those monsters with yellow eyes and funny brows ridges… you know that they burn in sunlight like in the old Dracula movies? I saw that in another dream. Anyway, there were four of them, two men and two women. She had managed to wound one of the men on the face, but she had taken a mortal wound herself. That’s when it becomes funny. Suddenly, Kokoa’s Dad destroys the doors of the temple the girl was fighting in with a kick and attacks the four monsters… He calls them ghouls and trash and… the monsters are getting their ass sooo kicked. A pity they managed to flee when that cannonball broke the roof. Anyway, the last thing is that he was holding the girl, telling her he was sorry, but that her family was safe. I remember his eyes, his scarlet eyes… If he’s a vampire, at least he’s the real thing, not like those Halloween rejects. That’s when I woke up. So, what do you think?”
“I think that you should tell your mother about that dream, Elizabeth,” replied the cat.
“Okay… still dreaming. Next thing I know, I will be waving a wand saying corny things about love and justice while wearing some kind of cosplaying outfit…”
She got up and went to take a shower, not really seeing the embarrassment on Artemis’ face. Thirty seconds later, she stormed back in the room and lifted the cat by his neck’s skin.
“You! I’m not dreaming! You really talked!”
“Yes, Elizabeth, I can talk and… yes, you are a magical girl.”
Artemis meowed as he saw her eyes roll as she fell on the ground. He extracted himself from her grip, just in time not to end under her unconscious body. He approached her face and gave a light tap of one of his paws on her cheek.
“This is gonna be a long day,” he said, sighing.
--- Venturi family flat, Los Angeles, 8 September 2012 8:32
Elizabeth was still hoping she was somehow dreaming while she, Dawn and her Mom listened to… a goddamned magical cat explaining them they were the reincarnations of princesses from Atlantis or something like that. She took a sip of her hot cocoa.
“… and that’s what I can tell you for now,” said Artemis.
“Dawn, Lisa, do you have anything to tell us?” asked Joyce.
Dawn took a deep breath.
“What Artemis says is at least somewhat correct,” said Dawn. “I’ve known about being Sailor Pluto for years. It has all started when Celia and I had to spend the night at the hospital… there was a creature sucking the life energy of the children… I called it a youma and I destroyed it using a spell called ‘Dead Scream’. I thought I had dreamt… until Celia told me she made the same dream. Since then, Celia and I have been looking for clues but without any more success than a few rumors and urban legends. I… can also do a thing called psychometry.”
“Psycho…what?” asked Elizabeth.
“Psychometry,” said Joyce. “It’s a form of ESP where someone picks up impressions of events happening near a given item… I guess that explains your stellar grades in history.”
“In part… Mom, your old silver cross…”
Joyce winced, knowing perfectly well what this item went through over the years.
“I’ll tell you about it... Elizabeth?”
“Since a few nights ago, I have dreams,” replied the blonde teen. “I see girls around my age… they fight against monsters with yellow eyes, fangs and funny brows… they always die at the end.”
“Vampires,” said Joyce. “Again, I’ll explain later.”
“Actually Mom, I think there are two kinds of vampires, one with yellow eyes and the other with red eyes. In my last dream… I saw a vampire with red eyes and pupils like a cat. He called the other kind, the one with dead, yellow eyes, ghouls and trash.”
She kept for herself the fact her dream had put the face of Kokoa’s dad on this super-vampire. The dream might be wrong and she wanted to believe her friend.
“That was a Raksha,” said Artemis, “A Saturnian.”
“Ally or enemy?” asked Joyce.
“In the dream, the… ‘red eyes’ helped the girl but he arrived too late. He was… I mean he was nothing like the ye… nothing like the ghouls. He was like that French actor chasing the thugs away in that swashbuckling movie you showed us last Thursday,” said Elizabeth.
Joyce had a bemused smile. She had started to teach her native French to her daughters, among other things by showing them subtitled French movies to get them used to the sounds. The movie Elizabeth was referring to was Le Bossu,
the old version with Bourvil and Jean Marais. She had even surprised Lisa mimicking the fencing moves with a ruler, as well as looking for fencing and kendo clubs in the area.
“Artemis, anything to add?” asked Dawn.
“I’m not sure. It’s not a question of memories, but because it happened long before I was born. When I was the advisor of Elizabeth’s initial incarnation, Saturn had been quarantined for centuries and the subject was not spoken about. What I also remember is that, in the second incarnation, Sailor Saturn was an ally, though there was a certain fear of what she could do…”
“Mom,” said Lisa. “And you? Every time we look at things regarding your past, it looks more and more like if you were ‘Jane Smith’.”
“You are right, it is time for me to be frank though you may not like what I’m about to say… Your comparison is… correct, Elizabeth. You are right in that I have been trained to kill people and I effectively lived that kind of life until 1995, after what I retired, crafted for myself a nice cover and met Hank. Lisa, you used to joke about my parenting methods. Why I am… or was as there is going to be some changes given the present circumstances, a rather relaxed parent is because of my own childhood. To be frank… it was hell.”
“Were you… abused?” asked Dawn.
“Not in the way you think. It was hell as in ‘training from hell’. The method has been used by several organizations in the world. You take young children and you raise them to be obedient killing machines, destroying systematically any trace of conscience they may develop through punishment, drugs, etc. I still had some luck as our father took the ‘family tradition’ approach. I was encouraged to stay loyal to my sisters and I therefore still had a little personality when I fulfilled my first contract. I was ten.”
The twins looked at their mother. They knew she wouldn’t joke, not now. They still had difficulties to believe that.
“Mom… Did Xiang-Ying…” said Elizabeth, remembering her conversation with Kokoa the night before.
“Yes, she went through a similar thing, but worse than me. In her case, the children were orphans and stripped of everything, including their name. She only had a number then a codename until Ryo adopted her.”
“How did you… get out of it?” asked Dawn.
“When I was sixteen, my father was killed. My sisters and I were suddenly all what was left of our family and the organization it belonged to was happy to forget us. So we went freelance. We constructed a network of friends and… as the discipline relaxed, we started to live, little by little. It took me five years only to be able to somewhat function in society. I got a liking for art following a mission in Japan where I took an interest in the famous Cat’s eye burglars… I even helped them involuntarily for one of their heists… my target and theirs were in the same house and each of us ended as the other’s diversion. It was finally you two who really helped me become… let’s say better suited to civilian life.”
“Mom, do you… regret anything?” asked Elizabeth.
“No, Lisa. I know that, compared to… normal people, I’m missing something. As one of my acquaintances likes to say: I lack that little voice in the head that tells someone it’s bad to kill people. Any chance for that voice to exist in me has been crushed. I still have empathy, but it’s reserved for the people of my inner circle. I won’t kill without necessity, but I will do it without regret.”
“Should we start reading the obituaries to look if Hank had an accident?” asked Dawn.
“No… as Terry Pratchett said, it’s not because you don’t have morals that you don’t have standards. As long as Hank stays out of our lives, he is not worth the hassle. I would… understand if you decided both to hate me, to consider me a monster.”
Dawn looked at her mother. These explanations put in perspective the things she had felt while holding the cross.
“Lisa?” she asked, seeing her sister’s trouble.
“I… just trying to get used to the fact my life suddenly decided to become… a shonen manga, the kind full of secret societies and hidden demons. Probably still a little numb from my last fainting when I discovered Artemis can talk, so I’m not freaking out too much… I know Mom loves us. D… Hank is the one society would consider normal but he didn’t hesitate to discard us. My so-called friends at school, considered by most to be normal too, did the same when I decided to stand by my ‘mutant’ sister. So, I say screw normality. I prefer to be an Addams in a family that cares.”
“I concur,” said Dawn in her best Wednesday Addams imitation.
Joyce wiped a tear and motioned for her girls to come hug her.
--- Glendale, California, 10 September 2012, 3:43 PM ---
“You’re sure it’s the right address?” asked Elizabeth while Dawn checked the plan on her vidphone.
Dawn nodded and pushed the small door of the warehouse. It wasn’t as empty as she would have thought. Actually, Saint-Bernard sized robotic scarabs were busy cleaning up the place and making repairs.
“Do you see how the bots are working?” said Dawn, pointing the place where the scarabs were installing a bathroom.
“Looks like they’re transforming this into a house, with plenty of training space.”
“I’m here, Dawn!” replied Joyce waving from the top of a mezzanine.
They reached the platform and saw their mother discussing over a plan of the warehouse with a middle-aged, Mediterranean-looking man.
“Dawn, Elizabeth, please meet my old friend Antoine Berreto.”
“Nice to meet you,” said Elizabeth. “You are in construction?”
“Among other things,” replied the man. “Let’s say I procure things to people. In this case, your mother needed a team of construction robots… as well as some other things.” A fixer,
thought immediately the green-haired teenager.
“Mom… this place?”
“It already belonged to me but as I didn’t check it in sixteen years, it was in need of repairs, as well as some customization… before you ask, plans to transform it have been in motion since we got back from Japan. Saturday’s discussion just had me change some things about the layout. ”
“Was this one of your safehouses?” asked Elizabeth.
“Rather storage space for some things I could not really take with me in Hank’s house. Antoine sold it to me at the time. The good thing is that nothing links it to Joyce Summers. My solicitor is still juggling a little to give me back access to everything I stashed away when I retired… and yes, Dawn, we’re rich.”
“Did… your old job pay that much?” asked Lisa.
“Your mother was one of the most expensive torpedoes in the market, girls.”
“Antoine…” said Joyce with a sigh. “Please excuse him. He is sometimes too fond of things about the Prohibition… Ok, you’re right, I came clean with my daughters and I take some professional pride at my work,” she added, seeing his gaze. “The main thing is that contrarily to some other people in my profession, I had a rather low-key lifestyle and invested everything I spared. In sixteen years of retirement without touching it because Hank was paying most of the bills… it grew.”
“Won’t the divorce lawyers…”
“No. The prenuptial agreement Hank and I signed is very clear on this. Antoine, for the rest…”
“It will be delivered at the end of next week. I’ll probably send Charlie.”
“Is he good?”
“He started to work for me in exchange of my help to get rid of… sun-challenged vermin. After we wiped out a nest with incendiaries, he continued and uses the money to send his sister to college. He got the honor part right and…I must say that it’s nice to see that the mold to create old-school mobsters like you and me is not broken.” To think that one week ago, I would have found this conversation very strange,
Joyce accompanied Antoine back to the door while the girls observed the robots at work. They remembered seeing news about those when they were introduced four years ago, mainly concerns about machines taking once again people’s work. In the end it had been for naught. The sad truth was that there were humans ready to work for a lot less than the purchase and maintenance cost of a construction robot. In other places, small companies actually made the ‘human-made’ a selling argument for those looking for authenticity. Both guessed however why their mother had decided to use robots. Robots didn’t talk and their memories could be erased.
“So… did you take your gym clothes?” asked Joyce as she came back.
Both girls nodded.
“Good, let us all change, then Artemis and I can start teaching you.”
Hearing his name, the cat yawned ostensibly on the armchair he had curled upon.
--- Inside Elizabeth’s head, one hour later ---
The Slayer Essence was feeling all giddy. Usually, she had to augment her host slowly, so that she didn’t push the body too far and exhausted her host’s life energy. Usually too, her host died before she had the time to do any real job.
“Bad Watchers… always killing my hosts when eighteen… no, not always. Nikki was older.”
It was different this time, at several levels. Not only did the star crystal possess so much energy it seemed unlimited to her, but it was pushing for its own modifications. It was different from what the Slayer did. She kept her host mostly human and when she died, the autopsy could not tell the difference unless they searched very well. The crystal didn’t have such scruples. Elizabeth’s biology was rewritten, everything made stronger and faster.
“Will host look like shiny woman in crystal when all said and done?”
The Slayer felt a stir. Her host was sparring with her mother. The Essence could feel her usual talent to help her host master any weapon kick in but… there were also bits of knowledge trickling from the crystal. Feeling curious, she observed them and… it felt somehow familiar. It was something she had known at a point but she couldn’t say when.
Quitting her usual feral pose, the Slayer Essence started to go through the moves of the kata.
--- The warehouse, Glendale, 21 September 2012, 8:12 PM ---
Charles Gunn rang the bell of the door of the warehouse where Antoine had told him to deliver a shipment. Soon, a green-haired girl in exercise clothes came to open.
“You’re Charlie?” she asked.
“Yes… sorry but…”
“You were expecting someone older. Mom is busy. I will open the loading dock… and with the current sundown, see if you can come in.”
“Smart,” said Charles, smiling.
She closed the door and he soon saw the steel door of the loading dock rise. He motioned to his driver to get the small truck in the warehouse. Once they were both in, the green-haired girl closed the door and took out a computer tablet and a style. Scarab-like robots arrived and entered the rear of the truck, unloading, and then unpacking the crates while she checked the inventory. Young but dead serious… who is she working for? The Yakuza? Antoine said something about this client being special. Pretty nifty software she has… her robots are testing every piece and comparing it to the inventory…
“Looks like everything’s all right. The money has been transferred to the agreed account,” she added.
He took out his vidphone and quickly checked the transaction. The money had come from a Taiwanese bank, which probably meant the Triads. Definitely big game here… I don’t even want to know what they will do with these weapons… or why they paid so much for a movie prop.
Dawn watched him leave and lowered the steel curtain behind them. Abandoning what she called her ‘Nabiki Tendo’ mask, she took a box and smiled, letting the robots put away her Mom’s weapons. Inside was a Chinese sword with a broken blade. She took it in her hands, letting her power work. Just as she thought, she soon saw scenes of a movie being filmed.
She arrived in the training area where Elizabeth was busy sparring with her Mom under Artemis’ critic gaze. She kneeled, watching them while she still held the broken sword and pushed her power through it. What she wanted to do was subtle but if her theories were correct, there should be a timeline where… Contact… Hello, Master Broken Sword. Please… teach me.
Her breath became more rapid as the sigil of infinity flared on her brow. What she was doing was pretty exhausting and she doubted to be able to do it more than once, at least with that focus. She could already feel the sword disintegrate in her hands, as it was torn between two worlds. Finally, she fell on her back, all her muscles aching.
“Did it work?” asked Elizabeth as she helped her to stand up.
“I… maybe. I’m far from being as good as him, but…”
“Then let’s check,” said Joyce, handing a wooden sword to each of her daughters. “Better to imprint these memories in your body once and for all.”
Joyce smiled as she watched the twins salute. Dawn was doing it in the Chinese way, while Elizabeth favored European fencing. As they started to move, she saw that the blonde still had the advantage thanks to the boost of the dark presence but the gap was already smaller. Each of them managed to use her particular talent to get the effect of years of training in barely two weeks. I… I know it’s the darkness in me speaking, but I’m so proud to see them become such fine warriors.
She and Artemis stopped them once in a while to correct a stance or a move. They still had a lot to learn, but Joyce had no doubt that they would surpass her.
“I’m so proud of you two,” she said as she hugged them.
--- Near the Hemery High School, Los Angeles, 24 September 2012, 3 PM ---
“Why, Buffy?” asked the brunette girl.
“Kimberly,” said Elizabeth. “I already told you. I’m not Buffy anymore.”
“We were friends almost since elementary school…”
Kimberly looked at her friend. Before summer break, before she went to visit her aunt and cousin in Tokyo, she had been one of the coolest girls in school. As their second year of high school started, she had even hoped for her to become the captain of the cheerleading squad and probably the school queen.
But, when the year had started, she had announced she was quitting the squad and to never call her Buffy anymore. There were also the clothes. Buffy had often been flirting with the limits of the school’s dress code. Elizabeth was just one tie short of a catholic schoolgirl uniform. True, she doubted that catholic schoolgirls would have white and scarlet uniforms but… The worse was that with the red bow in the blonde’s hair, there was something in that look. Something that made her look like some kind of European aristocrat. She had even shifted from a backpack to a classical leather satchel.
“But the nice girl I knew in elementary… Kimberly, last summer, I realized I was becoming a bitch ready to discard her family to stay popular. Last summer, I met someone who made me reconsider my priorities. Do the same… before you end up alone.”
“You… do you listen to yourself? Did they brainwash you in Tokyo? Did you have an accident and got you brain swapped with some Brit lady? You almost have the accent and…”
Elizabeth frowned. She was pretty sure to know why she was catching a British accent. Her brain was just too busy sorting the information that trickled from her past lives and Minako Aino had learnt English when living in the land of tweed. There was also the fact Kokoa found Californian slang… unbecoming of a self-respecting lady, so Elizabeth had decided to stick it into the ‘Buffy’ box along with cheerleading.
“No, Kimberly… just what you already know: I was in Tokyo when I learnt that my parents were divorcing,” she lied, she hoped convincingly enough.
“So… you don’t care anymore?”
“No, I don’t care about being one of the popular girls anymore. The others in the cheerleading squad forced me to choose between my family and that. I chose. Jennifer and the others can say what they want. Like my Mom is fond to say: ‘le chien aboie, la caravane passe’. If you change your mind, I will be here… otherwise, it was nice knowing you, but I won’t go where you’re heading to.”
Lisa left, trying to put as much ice as she could in her heart. I’m not sorry, I’m not sorry… I’m a goddamned goddess and I won’t cry over a choice I know to be right… even if it cost me a lot.
It had now been almost three weeks since the big reveal. That had given her some time to… get used to things. She wondered if, in one of those alternate universes science fiction was so fond of, she would have tried to deny everything, to cling as much as she could to normalcy. Instead of training every night with Mom, Dawn and a magical cat… speaking of it, Mom is still trying to discover what the dark dreams mean.
While Artemis had expected her and Dawn to learn fast because of memories of their past lives resurfacing little by little now that they knew, things related to combat were coming abnormally quickly to Elizabeth. Artemis thought it was linked to that dark presence acting as a symbiont.
Lost in her thoughts, she jumped without really paying attention, her feet stepping lightly on a nearby fence as she progressed just as naturally as she would have on the walkway.
“This is impressive,” said a rotund man with a moustache in rather old grey suit.
Lisa looked around and suddenly realized where she was standing. Of course, just as she started to think about her balance, things went wobbly. Muttering curses, she gave a light tap and somersaulted, receiving herself perfectly on the ground.
“I’m sorry for breaking your concentration,” said the man.
“That’s nothing… guess I was channeling Ranma... Joke apart, I used to do gymnastics. Are you looking for someone?”
“I’m looking for you actually. My name is Merrick. I was sent to find you some time ago. I should have found you much sooner but there were… complications. You should have been taught, prepared.”
Elizabeth frowned as her mind raced. This sounded more and more like Senshi stuff and Artemis hadn’t wanted to give her the item she needed to transform into a magical girl, telling her it would trigger too many memories.
“What are you talking about?”
“I wanted to bring you… your birthright.” Either it’s Senshi stuff or he’s from Mom’s past… shit. Too many open venues. There could be a dozen snipers and…
“You must come with me,” continued the man, “It’s much too late already. You must come with me to the graveyard.” Graveyard… vampires. It’s about the ‘dark’ dreams.
“Is that the last trick perverts use to lure innocent young girls? I may not have a hammer but I can still go ‘Akane’ on you.” He probably didn’t catch the quote… Control, Lisa… do not give any information, just let him talk.
“You don’t understand, you have been chosen.”
“Chosen to go the graveyard? No, thanks.”
Merrick ran after Elizabeth as she darted in an alley… and jumped. He blinked. Her jump had not been that unusual for a Slayer… well, a really well-trained one. It had brought her at almost three meters high. What she did afterwards on the other hand was… without precedent.
Lisa’s feet had touched one of the alley’s walls at the top of her jump and propelled herself three meters higher on the opposite wall. Four jumps and six seconds later, she was disappearing on a rooftop.
“Really impressive… I wonder who is this Ranma? There is no one with that name in her file but… what we got from Japan is sketchy at best. Could he be her trainer?”
--- One hour later, somewhere in Los Angeles ---
Kimberly knew she shouldn’t have taken that shortcut between the two buildings. She wouldn’t have if her conversation with Bu… Elizabeth hadn’t been so unsettling. The shadows were too heavy here. He had just gazed in her eyes and she had followed him into that building, walking in a dream-like trance. Now, she was sitting on his knees while his teeth sank in her throat.
She doubted she would survive the night. While a part of hear screamed silently, the other thanked a god she didn’t believe in that the monster’s thrall kept her comfortably numb.
“Now, my little lamb… Tell me about your friend, the one with the golden hair.”
“Elizabeth? She’s strange…”
“Tell me where she lives. If you are a good girl, I will make you immortal.”
“Yes, Master Lothos.”
--- The Warehouse, Glendale, 29 September 2012, 5 PM ---
“Mom… I think we have a problem,” said Lisa as she entered her mother’s office.
“What did happen?”
“I met a guy with a British accent on the way home. He rambled about my destiny. At first I was afraid he knew something about the Senshi, but he started to talk about cemeteries and me being chosen. I think it has to do with the dark dreams.”
“Probably to observe something about vampires. What did you do?”
“I went for the ‘that’s how perverts lure young girls now?’ line. I didn’t want to deal more with him before telling you or Artemis.”
“Good. While checking my contacts, I realized another of my old friends is in this town. He will probably know something about those dreams. Lisa… he is not human.”
“Can we come with you?” she said, nodding.
Joyce quickly weighed the risks. On one hand, the place would be… rather unsettling and she didn’t know their policy about underage customers. On the other hand, this Merrick had found Elizabeth at her school. He probably knew where they lived.
“Did he follow you?”
“No. Thanks to the Saotome-Ryu training with Dawn, I roof-hopped here and he’s a middle-aged librarian.”
“Good, then here should still be safe, but the flat is burned… You can come but I want a promise: whatever happens, don’t freak.”
“Promised. Where are we going?”
“In a club. It’s called Caritas.”
Disclaimer Addendum: while not a direct crossover, the character of Broken Sword belongs to the movie Hero. I own nothing regarding him. Ranma and Nabiki Tendo are likewise part of the manga Ranma 1/2