The Calling (Part II)
Author notes: sorry for the delay, folks. Offline life got in the way. I hope you will enjoy this chapter.
--- The Warehouse, Glendale, 29 September 2012, 5:17 PM ---
Elizabeth entered the former offices that had been transformed in two rooms, a bathroom and a living room. While most of it was ready and they were already living here for the most part, her Mom was conserving the flat as an official address for the time being. This was good, because it meant that most of her clothes were already here, even if both of them had left at the flat enough to make it pretend that it was used.
She found her sister in their common living room, busy watching anime. A man in a red coat, an insane and very toothy grin on his face, was fighting an equally crazy priest armed with bayonets.
“Hellsing?” she asked.
“Just something that crossed my mind when you spoke about two kinds of vampires.”
“Ghouls and trash… true. You think the ‘redeyes’ are true Nosferatu like Alucard and Seras while the ‘yellow eyes’ are more like the artificial vampires in the show.”
“Seems like it. From what Artemis told us, I even think the comparison goes further, that the real world ghouls are either bad copies or a degenerate mutant variation of the original Raksha. I also think both species have wholly different limitations.”
“From what Mom told us, the ghouls have a lot of the classical limitations: sunlight, crosses, no reflection, cannot enter uninvited… They’re faster, stronger and not easily wounded, but they have no funky powers like transforming in bats. Artemis wasn’t able to tell us anything about the capacities of Rakshas other than they were powerful warriors. What if they were like Stoker’s Dracula?”
“Able to move by day, with more magical powers but also limitations ghouls don’t have like crossing water… that’s a possibility but unless we remember more or meet one…”
Elizabeth crashed on the couch.
“Yeah… that’s just speculation. There is another point Mom may know something about: are blessed silver bullets, or any other kind of special bullets, useful against vampires?”
“All bullets are useful, if you use them right,” said Joyce, standing on the entrance of the living room.
“Heart or head?” asked Dawn.
“Knees, ankles and other articulations. Vampires, or rather ghouls to use your name for them… even with their healing abilities, their bones break and they cannot move, at least not well, without them. But for a bullet to dust a ghoul in one shot… nothing with a good size/reliability ratio existed when I retired. I tended to use a grenade launcher with incendiaries.”
“And magic bullets?” asked Dawn.
“I only heard rumors about those. From what little I know, crafting such things is difficult and the methods well-guarded secrets. As you can guess, the organizations supposed to know how are usually… nasty people. Dawn, did Lisa already tell you about tonight?”
“Sorry Mom, we got sidetracked,” said Elizabeth.
“It’s alright, we still have time. Dawn, tonight we are going to see a contact of mine in a karaoke bar. He is not human and may know something about the dark presence. I would advise to dress semi-formally. Lisa, I let you inform her about the man you met. Just be ready at eighteen hundreds, we’ll dine somewhere on the way.”
Elizabeth gave her mother a mock military salute, a playful smile on her lips. Joyce smirked back and left.
“I’ll tell you while I shower,” said the blonde to her sister.
“No problem, sis. I was wondering why you smelled like if you were right out of training.”
“I had to roof-hop here following a meeting with a creepy man,” said Lisa while she entered the bathroom and started to undress.
“Can you describe him?”
“I can do better... I took a picture of him from the rooftop. Just look in my vidphone…”
Elizabeth started to detail her encounter with Merrick while she showered, answering her sister’s questions for more details on a point or another. During that time, Dawn transferred Merrick’s picture on her computer.
“So… if I make some deductions from the little Merrick said,” said Dawn as Lisa got out of the bathroom, drying her hair. “The dark presence seems to act as a kind of holy warrior handled by him… or more probably a secret society he represents. They usually find the girls earlier… we can suppose without too much risk that the magic masking your Senshi-ness interfered. Which I would say is a good thing.”
“You think that… they do to those girls the same kind of thing Mom went through as a child?”
“Wouldn’t be too surprised if they did. I’m all the more curious to hear what Mom contact’s has to say, because I certainly won’t trust this Merrick at face value.”
“Do you think we could find where he lives?”
“We don’t know much… maybe she could.”
“An online friend. I’ll go see her when we come back tonight.”
“See? Ah, you mean in one of those virtual chat rooms?” said Lisa, pointing a kind of light helmet resting near her sister’s computer.
“Yeah, though I would rather call it a club. It’s called the ‘End of Line’ – a reference to the old Tron movie.”
Elizabeth nodded. She remembered reading an article in a movie magazine about why a sequel to that movie was something that had been envisaged, then scrapped. The problem was that the new technologies had changed the public expectations. People now lived in a world where AIs, cyborgs, androids and space colonization were a reality. That changed a lot of things about what the public found believable.
While it meant that movies set in the real world included the most recent technologies… and would have looked like cyberpunk science fiction to the viewer of the eighties, it had also made things more difficult for science fiction writers. People heard about things happening in space every day and more people actually went up there every year. The public knew at least a little about how things really moved up there. The idea of dogfight in space now seemed just as ‘vintage’ as the Flash Gordon comics. It was acceptable in old movies, but any recent show or movie had better be realistic enough about things like acceleration and the lack of sound. According to the article, it was one of the reasons why the Star Wars prequels planned at some point were finally never filmed.
It had been similar for things related to AIs and virtual worlds. It was difficult for a movie to paint AIs as evil when you had real ones being saddened by that vision and giving interviews about it… while continuing the fight to obtain civil rights. Also… the idea of people viewing what happened between computers as a virtual environment, the whole idea called by names such as Grid or Matrix… it was a reality since that mysterious event called Child’s Rhyme nine years ago. Which brings us to hackers… or rather netrunners to use the ‘cool’ term setting up their own private meeting spaces in the Net. I knew that Dawn dabbled but… we’ll see.
The twins went to their respective rooms to dress. A while later, they both came out and checked their respective outfits, Lisa’s sky blue dress against Dawn’s dark red one.
“Blue Oni, Red Oni?” asked the green-haired twin.
“Inverted then. You’re the patient one.”
“Are you ready girls?” asked Joyce, standing at the entrance of their living room.
Both girls nodded and followed their mother.
--- Caritas, Los Angeles, 29 September 2012, 8:30 PM --- Okay…
The room Dawn was looking at was pretty standard for a jazz club. It had a scene, a bar and round tables on the floor. The problem was the people in that room. Had the décor been a little more… alien, she could have thought about being in a bar in some distant star system like the one in the last Babylon 5 movie.
She stayed close to her mother as they walked towards the bar. She didn’t like how some of the patrons looked at her, as if she was some kind of tasty morsel. She suddenly felt Lisa’s presence and some of the non-humans started to look curiously at her sister, with a mix of fear and hate. Probably because of the dark presence… I hope we’ll have answers tonight.
She saw her mother waving to the barman, a humanoid with a blue-green spiked head.
“Hello, Jeff,” she said while she sat on a stool.
“Oh my… Kyrie, it’s been ages!” replied the Brachen barman.
“Dawn, Lisa, this is my old friend Jeff. When I knew him he was whipping the meanest cocktails in Acapulco. Jeff, these are my daughters Dawn and Elizabeth.”
“Nice to meet you, young ladies. So, how can I serve you tonight?”
“Let’s start with a Chupacabra for me. And for you girls?”
“Iced tea, please,” said Elizabeth.
“A Red Bull,” said Dawn.
Joyce smiled to her daughters, though she mentally noted she would probably have to check Dawn’s caffeine intake. She had expected them to freak out more but the weeks spent with a talking cat had probably helped to prepare them for their first contact with the supernatural community. There was still a little fear, mostly because they knew that some of the patrons were not just funny-looking people, but monsters temporarily behaving as they were in neutral ground. And that’s good… a little fear will keep them cautious.
Having served the twins, the barman started to mix, among other things, tequila, lime juice and jalapeno slices.
“So… as I suppose this is not a simple family outing…” said Jeff.
“Unfortunately… no. Have you noticed how some of the patrons are looking at Elizabeth?”
“Yes, they feel a predator on the prowl… I can feel it myself. There is something in… Holy… it’s recent, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” said Elizabeth, after taking in her mother’s slight nod. “I have dreams. I see girls my age fight and being killed by monsters with yellow eyes and funny brows. Today… I met someone who looked like a British librarian. He wanted me to go with him, but I refused.”
Joyce could almost see the thoughts racing in her old friend’s spiked head.
“That serious?” asked Elizabeth.
“Yes, Miss, that serious.”
“Oh my, such somber faces,” said a green-skinned, horned demon in a purple suit was standing near them.
“Ladies, please meet Caritas’ owner: the Host,” said Jeff. “Boss, Miss Elizabeth here is the Slayer, a Slayer who never met a Watcher.”
“What’s a Slayer?” asked Elizabeth.
“Now that’s a long story, pumpkin” said the Host. “I don’t know all of it as I have only been in here for a little more than a decade. I think I can help you but I must first verify some things. Elizabeth, would you like to sing?”
The blonde frowned, trying to make sense of the statement. Got it… he’s like Dawn with her psychometry, but he needs to hear people sing.
“You are a Seer, right? You read omens in the songs of people?”
“That’s one… cute way to say it, sugar.”
“Should I go on the scene?”
“Yes. You don’t have to be afraid…”
Elizabeth got on the scene and took the microphone, wondering what she would… She suddenly felt one of those random memories trickle, probably something that came from Minako’s time in England. She selected the music on the computer’s tactile screen. She started to sing.
“I’d sit alone and watch your light. My only friend through teenage nights. And everything I had to know, I heard it on my radio…”
The Host, also known as Lorne, looked at the teen on the scene. She was singing well and… she started to move in a way that reminded him of one of his favorite Britons. He smiled. He remembered when Freddie had come to Caritas four months ago to hold one of his yearly ‘I survived’ parties. Apex Pharmaceuticals had gotten this cure out just in time for him. Freddie and the others… introduced rather brutally to the supernatural when that group affiliated with Wolfram and Hart called the Dark Agency tried to ‘acquire’ them… until they were saved by a teenage witch who liked to dress up as a superhero. Freddie told me they had a ‘thank you’ party with this Sailor V…
He started to see her aura, the multiple depths in it as the song continued. The Slayer was here, old and angry, itching for a fight. Suddenly, he saw the Slayer being sucked inside of her, its aura completely vanishing, replaced by something else, something warm that was expanding in the whole club.
“All we hear is radio ka ka…”
Some people, among which a hardened demon who had so far wanted to rip her a new one, clapped in their hands at the same time as she did.
“Radio goo goo…”
More joined her. Now he was pretty sure where he had already felt such a thing. Her aura just screamed ‘Love me!’ in a way… That’s not something ‘alien’ to her like the Slayer. That’s her true aura. She has succubus blood… and the Slayer awakened it? It’s supposed to augment all the capacities of the host. No, it’s…
The pressure continued to rise as she sung. People were smiling. It wasn’t the cruel smirk he was used to see on some of those faces but a genuine warm smile.
“Radio what’s new? Radio, someone still loves you!”
--- Inside Elizabeth’s head, just as she climbed on the scene ---
“Demons… need to fight,” said the Slayer as she started to pour aggression in her host’s aura.
“Listen young lady… no, lady does not cut it. Currently you’re just an honorless brat who wants to fight for the sake of it,” said the shining woman, jumping out of the crystal. “El’s breath! Thankfully your mother can’t hear you now! Now go to your room!” she added, pointing the large room near the fountain’s plaza.
The Slayer thought for half a second about fighting the woman but the idea was washed away by something she had not felt for ages: shame. Shaken, she moved slowly, not really understanding what was happening to her.
On the plaza, Ishtar sighed, thinking she would probably have to re-educate her niece from scratch.
“What am I singing?”
She smiled. She recognized one of her favorites when she was Minako. She could also feel the talent of the Pylean seer brushing her aura. She sent her own probes and smiled. This Lorne was a man after her own heart.
“Time to pour out the old charm!”
The crystal flared. Ishtar knew that her current body was still far from optimal specs, but it had already drifted enough towards what it should be to allow for that. She started to sing, accompanying her host.
“All we hear is Radio ga ga… Radio blah blah… Radio, what’s new? Radio, someone still loves you!”
--- Caritas, a second later ---
Lorne felt her aura flare even more. The Slayer was now completely undetectable. All that remained was the other one. His talent reached the next stage as he started to see glimpses of her future.
He saw her adult, in a regal sky blue dress, shaking hands with a big man in a black suit. While the act in itself was common, the scenery and the identity of the man made it extraordinary. She was standing on the steps of the White House’s entrance and a lot of members of the press were busy filming and taking photos. There was also another fact. She was quite openly showing her tail and her four delicately curved horns. Even more, the naturalized Austrian who was the Republican candidate to this year presidential elections thanks to a recent Constitutional Amendment was asking her how it was to be a superhero.
The image shifted. He saw a battle. She was clad in a golden thing that he immediately nicknamed battle lingerie and was probably the succubus idea of an armor. She was leading a ‘spandex squad’ against an invasion of demons while Los Angeles laid in flaming ruins. Some were humans or androids, he couldn’t tell given their complete, metallic armor. But others were demons. He was sure about a Yuki Onna and at least another succubus. There was even an oriental dragon with an aquamarine mane. Race didn’t seem to matter as they all fought the invasion back.
The image shifted again and he saw a little girl praying. The funny, or scary, thing was that she was praying to a statuette of Elizabeth clad in her battle lingerie. A name muttered by the girl sent shivers down Lorne’s spine: Lady Ishtar.
“You had your time, you had the power. You’ve yet to have your finest hour.”
Lorne looked at the blonde girl on the scene as she ended the song. He was feeling the mother of all headaches coming as the girl’s aura went back to more normal levels. His patrons had cheered her. All of them. What else to expect when the Goddess of Love herself graces us… They will probably be back to normal in a few days but tonight…
The evening had resumed and it seemed that the club’s atmosphere was lighter, the patrons mingling more freely, the laughs more frequent and sincere. Even people who had just come here to drink alone had ceased to be their usual grumpy selves. It wasn’t blunt mind control robbing people of their will, or even like some cheering spells he had seen. It was a lot subtler, just dulling a preconception here, enhancing a little courage there. People could continue to act freely if they wished… but the alternative was so much more enjoyable. Temptation mastered to its fullest…
“Should I sing too, Mister Lorne?” asked Dawn. “I’m not as good as my sister...”
He started to panic. From the vision he had, he was pretty sure the girl on the scene was the reincarnation of Ishtar. If Dawn was her sister in both lives, that meant she was Ereshkigal. He had absolutely no wish to take a peek in the mind of the Queen of the Underworld.
“No… that won’t be necessary,” he said, restoring his calm. “Let’s go to my office, what I have to say is private.”
--- Lorne’s office, a few minutes later ---
“Normally, I would tell you to prepare to have a short an eventful life, pumpkin,” said Lorne. “As far as I know, Slayers tend to die one year after they are called in average. It’s not something… built in, but Slayers attract trouble. Demons can feel what they are and a lot know what that feeling means. Fights tend to ensue. The Slayer is certainly faster and stronger than most, but she’s only a young girl. When she dies, the next one is called and the cycle continues…”
He could see the tears in the blonde’s eyes. He hated breaking such bad news but…
“Does that have to do with the… Librarian?”
“In part. They call themselves the Watchers. They are a secret society based in England who fights against demons. Mostly, they train and assist the Slayer.”
“How young do they start to train them?” asked Joyce.
“From infancy if they can. It is really rare for them to miss someone like they did with Lisa.”
“And if possible without any other ‘family’ than Watchers… I know all too well how that works,” she said with a bitter tone. “Lorne, how long until they send a black ops team to kill my daughter?”
Lorne blinked and wondered what kind of horrors he would see if Joyce were to sing for him. He had more or less guessed that she wasn’t the typical working Mom but that… the worse was that she had not asked if, but when. She had absolutely no illusions on the Watchers’ morals and he could already guess that if they came, she would kill them with the same icy, business-like expression.
“If she turns against them… it will be short. The problem is that the same aura that makes the Slayer feel the demons allows the magic-users working for the Watchers to localize her… but I said that it was what I would normally say… There is something else in you, pumpkin. Compared to it, the Slayer is small fry.”
“What did you see?” asked Dawn.
“Change… of such an order I shiver to think about it. Mythology is one thing but that… the demons have their legends about the gods and how they relate to the different demon races. The one you… were or are… Ishtar is the Succubus Queen.”
“Not Lilith?” asked Dawn.
“Lilith was her daughter, the one that led the succubae survivors on this world after an event they call Skyfall.”
Elizabeth raised her head. Skyfall… Artemis had used that word too.
“So Elizabeth is changing into a succubus?” asked Joyce.
“Yes. You felt her aura during her song? It was still rather… innocent, a ‘friendship is magic’ kind of thing rather than a ‘love me and despair’ one, but that was definitely succubus charm.”
“Am I… I mean…”
“Ifs your question is was Ishtar a good girl… there is no simple answer. Compared to the Old Ones, the creatures some of the most whacked-out demons still worship…”
“Old Ones… any relation to Lovecraft?” asked Dawn.
“That’s a good approximation actually. If demon legends are reliable, the gods can be just as bad as in mythology, but at least they somewhat care for us mortals and our free will. As for Ishtar… succubae consider her a kind goddess, but also a fierce one once she decides to go to war.”
“On a more practical point… can you give us the lay of the land about this city’s supernatural community?” asked Joyce.
“Yes… I can do that.”
--- The Warehouse, Glendale, 30 September 2012, 1 AM ---
Dawn took her virtual helmet and put it on her head. She felt the item deploy, attaching itself and the electrodes putting themselves in place to read and influence her brainwaves. The visor descended before her face and her vision filled with virtual objects she started to manipulate.
She envied cyborgs. Cyborgs could disconnect their flesh body’s motor controls to control fully the virtual one. Some people with a full cyber-brain could even do both at once. True, they also took risks she didn’t with a simple virtual helmet. Their mind became a system connected to the Net. She had heard stories about black software capable of erasing or even rewriting a cyborg’s memories. All the people with neuroware she knew nevertheless said it was totally worth it.
With that helmet, she could feel what her virtual body felt and control it up to a point by doing things such as thinking about walking rather than doing it. It was far from perfect as she needed a lot more concentration than normal, but it worked. She remembered a recent interview of Ralph Fiennes where the journalist had asked him what he thought now that the technology imagined in the Strange Days
movie was a reality. A pity. Mom would probably agree now but with my biology evolving…
“Mind if I piggyback?” said Lisa as she took her own virtual helmet and connected it.
“Be my guest.”
Lisa’s vision warped, soon replaced by a kind of amphitheater all in dark, red-lined glass surfaces. She was now seeing through the eyes of her sister’s avatar. She saw the icon to generate her own blinking. Better to stay like this… I would use a default avatar and I bet that would be like a major fashion failure in this place.
She saw the reflection of her sister’s avatar on a wall. In this world, Dawn was an obsidian statue of her physical self, wrapped in neon green inscriptions – most of them in dead languages – that slithered like snakes over her body. Dawn inserted a neon key in a door and reality shifted again, revealing a room that looked like an English pub with booths… but all designed in neon-tinged black surfaces, a lot like in the Tron movie.
The tables were occupied by fantastic creatures talking together, sometimes exchanging virtual objects that represented files. In a way, the creatures here were even more fantastic than the ones in Caritas. Yet, in another, they did not force one to reevaluate his worldview. Everything here was, after all, just an elaborate illusion inside a computer.
Dawn walked to a table where a Japanese princess in an elaborate ice blue kimono adorned with swans, a black snake coiled around her neck like a scarf, was chatting with a human-faced spider.
“Solitaire!” said the princess. “Nice to see you here but… you have a rider,” she finished, frowning.
“My sister, Kushinada. I vouch for her.”
“Well it won’t do, don’t you think, Anansi?” asked the princess to the spider.
“Assuredly,” replied the spider, his accent reminding Lisa of the Caribbeans. “She needs her own body so that she can be properly introduced… and a name of course.” A name… right, netrunners think like superheroes. They use fancy codenames and their avatars are their costumes,
thought Lisa. Something linked to who I really am but not too blatant… I know.
She clicked the item to project her own avatar.
“Sorry for the default icon… please call me Morningstar.”
The spider had a little laugh and waved his legs, spinning neon blue virtual silk around her. Lisa saw the alert icons from her helmet telling her that her settings were modified and files installed. Stay calm… Dawn would have cut the connection if there was a problem.
“Please consider this as a welcome gift,” said Anansi.
Her default avatar shifted, becoming a she-devil with an aura of dark flames as the silk disappeared.
“Why… got it Morningstar equals Lucifer,” she said with a frown. “Thank you Anansi.”
“So, now that your sister’s… wardrobe malfunction is corrected. What brings you here tonight?” asked Kushinada.
“I need a favor,” said Dawn, handing a floating white disk with moving bar codes to the princess.
“I’ll let you do your business,” said Anansi. “Say hello to Yamata for me, Kushinada.”
“I will,” replied the princess as the spider disappeared from the room, leaving a blinking ‘END OF TRANSMISSION’ icon that soon vanished.
Kushinada looked at the file while fanning herself.
“That’s not much,” she said. “What do you need to know?”
“His current physical address in Los Angeles.”
“Doable… I sense that you have a question, Morningstar.”
“Yes… how did the two of you meet if that’s not private?”
“Oh… we met on a forum on urban legends. We were looking for information on the same subject,” she said with a mysterious smile. “A little later, your sister helped me make sense of something I… acquired. Since then, we have been exchanging favors. Solitaire has a real knack at organizing information. Solitaire, I’ll have that information Monday morning. Is that all right?”
“Yes, thank you Kushinada.”
They chatted for a while about various news subjects. Elizabeth noted that neither Kushinada nor her sister mentioned anything regarding their ‘offline’ live. Once they had disconnected, she turned to face her sister.
“So, not too bad?” asked the blonde
“Not too bad. For what was left out of your question: she was looking for information on the Senshi and I didn’t tell her about Sailor Pluto.”
“You noticed the swans on her kimono?”
“Yes I did. The snake around her neck is normal considering her nickname. The swans now…”
“From what Artemis told us, Sailor Mercury’s old name is Sarasvati… and the swan is that goddess’ sacred animal.”
“I came to the same conclusion but we have to be prudent.”
“I see what you mean. She might be like us, trying to see clear about the dreams and bits of memories she’s seeing. But she might also be an enemy knowing just enough to lure us.”
“To quote one of my favorite movies: ‘the issue is not whether you’re paranoid. The issue is whether you’re paranoid enough.’”
--- Hemery High School, 1 October 2012, 12:23 AM ---
Elizabeth and Dawn sat at a table outside, taking out their lunches. The girls looked as they saw two adults coming towards them, a blonde woman and a black man.
“Elizabeth Summers? I’m Detective Kate Lockley,” said a blonde woman showing her police badge, “and this is my partner Detective Luther Banks. We are investigating on the disappearance of Kimberly.”
Lisa tilted her head. Now that she thought about it, it was true she hadn’t seen her today.
“The last time I saw her it was on Friday, as we were leaving school.”
“I heard so much. It seems that your discussion was rather heated.”
“We argued, that’s true… but we each left our own way quickly after school.”
“What was the argument about?”
“The short version: I grew up and she didn’t. To elaborate a little, I realized my family was more important than school popularity and she couldn’t understand it.”
Kate Lockley frowned. There was something strange in the tone used by the girl.
“Sorry to ask this but… did something happen to make you change?” asked Banks.
“Well I suppose you could find out rather easily as the papers are being filed with City Hall anyway,” said Dawn. “Our parents are divorcing.”
“I’m sorry,” said Lockley.
The detective caught the shrug of the green-haired girl. Now that she saw her exotic amethyst eyes, she was pretty sure that her hair color wasn’t caused by dye. And kids with the GES are often bullied in school or abused… they stand out too much. As my dear partner would probably say, ebony and ivory lived in perfect harmony… and ganged up happily on green.
“No need,” said Dawn. “It’s better like this. As other people will probably hint about it, my ‘unnatural’ hair color is one of the reasons Lisa broke up with her old social circle.”
“Yes,” confirmed Elizabeth. “Kimberly was not the worse about it, but others tried to convince me it was normal to pick up on… those they considered freaks.”
Lockley consigned some more things about the girls’ statement and made them sign it on her tablet. As she left, she couldn’t shake the feeling that they were hiding something.
“Did you get a reading?” asked Elizabeth in Japanese.
“Yes, when I touched the tablet,” replied Dawn in the same language. “They are not from Juvenile, but from Homicide. They are after ‘Dracula’.”
Lisa frowned. Dracula was the nickname of a serial killer who left his victims bloodless. From what they had learnt in Caritas, it was effectively a mean for Lothos, Los Angeles’ self-proclaimed vampire king, to mark his territory. Lisa sat at the table, feeling like crying.
“Dawn… do you think…”
“That she was taken because of the Slayer? That’s a possibility.”
“If she has been killed because of me…”
“Then it’s time to press Artemis. We’re Sailor Senshi. Fighting this kind of thing is what we do.”
“I think I can retrace Kimberly’s path last Friday… maybe you can get a good reading.”
“Okay, but we break off before sunset and we connect our GPS so that Mom can trace us.”
--- Somewhere in Los Angeles, 1 October 2012, 17:45 ---
“Look, here are the wonder twins,” said Lockley.
“You don’t like them,” said his partner, raising his nose from his tablet.
“My instincts are telling me something is majorly wrong with them… and no it’s not because of her hair color. They feel like… if they were used to death. What did the background check give?”
“Just as they said, the parents are divorcing and the mother obtained full guardianship.”
“Didn’t even try to fight it. Joyce… Venturi didn’t ask for alimonies and the two girls sided with their mother.”
“Is their mother loaded?”
“Impossible to say but she doesn’t seem to have any difficulty paying her bills. She’s an art broker and a lot of her work is handled overseas, via the Net. Immigration records show yearly trips to Japan – her sister lives there – usually with their daughters. The last time was in August.”
“Which gives them a very good alibi for at least one of the murders, unless the cult hypothesis is verified…”
They watched the twins as they progressed through the streets, the green-haired one sometimes stopping to touch a stone or a trashcan for a little while, before shaking her head. Lockley started the hybrid car. They still had other leads to verify.
--- Not so far away, at the same time ---
“She turned here,” said Dawn, removing her hand from a trashcan.
Lisa nodded and looked at her watch. They still had three quarters of an hour before complete sunset but the shadows were already lengthening. They had been stuck in school for too long because of that assignment for computer lab.
“That’s a shortcut to go to her home,” said Lisa, nodding towards the alley.
“Doesn’t it go to that studio that closed five years ago?”
“Yes, the digital revolution hit them hard and they closed. Some students like to use the yard to make out discreetly.”
They entered the alley. The shadows were heavy here and Dawn winced as she put her hand on the wall.
“Something… something old, full of hate and will to dominate. I’m sorry, Lisa-chan. Kimberly was taken.”
They continued, reaching the yard. It was small, only ten meters wide, just a hole between a now unused warehouse, a studio and a small office building, with several alleys going out of it, all of them but one too small for cars. With Hollywood still recuperating from the blow dealt by photorealistic virtual realities and the public’s tastes evolving, it had yet failed to be used again.
Dawn pointed another alley. They walked in it, noticing its turns and the too many blind doors.
“You’re sweating, are you all right?”
“I’ll make do, Lisa-chan. So much hate… He’s not here but…”
“So you are a seer,” said a voice from the alley they had exited.
“Merrick,” said Elizabeth, moving in front of her sister.
“I am not your enemy,” said the Watcher.
“That remains to be seen,” said the blonde girl.
“You know that you are different. You can do things no one else can… You are the Slayer, the one girl in all the world with the strength to fight vampires.”
“Faulty logic. This planet is a big place… and not the only place these days. One girl is not enough,” said Dawn. “What aren’t you telling us?”
Elizabeth suddenly winced. She felt something, like a buzz on her perceptions as people walked towards them. At first sight they looked like a common gang, but she didn’t like how they stuck to the shadows.
“Holy… ambushed like rookies. Merrick, you take my sister out of here. I’ll rejoin you later.”
“You don’t…” started the Watcher.
Lisa had already started to move, taking the arm of one of her attacker and striking him right on the shoulder. The articulation shattered under the impact. A vicious kick in the opposite knee had a similar effect. Taking the monster’s knife, she slashed his throat, severing the neck and dusting him. She lost no time and danced towards a second ghoul, letting the Slayer’s instincts and her training guide her while the faces from the ghoul became that distorted mask she had seen so many times in her dreams. From the corner of her eyes, she saw that Merrick and Dawn were retreating towards the yard. Good…
She continued to advance. She had to push them away from Dawn. Her dance made her reach one of the items she had noticed: a piece of wood with a conveniently sharp end that protruded from a trashcan. Grabbing it with her free end, she drew on the Slayer to use the makeshift stake as countless other girls before her.
Suddenly her stake was cut, intercepted by an ancient-looking sword with a straight blade. She made a backflip, retreating to see her new adversary. He was wearing ancient-looking clothes with a brown cloak. He had long, braided red hair that made him look like some kind of old Scottish warrior and eyes that burnt like embers.
“Lothos, I presume,” she said. “Nice sword.”
“The sword of Attila, young one. Maybe the only human that had worth… Soon, I will taste your blood.”
She was cut. His eyes… she shouldn’t have looked at them. She felt her perceptions drowning, dulling, a little like when she used her virtual helmet.
--- Inside the Slayer’s head, at the same time ---
The crystal was flaring again, but this time, the Slayer could feel it was in reaction to an external threat. She could feel it too. It was dark and syrupy, trying to break her host’s will while whispering of how he would defile Elizabeth once it had her.
“Thrall… old vampires sometimes have it.”
Vampires… since she had seen again Xin Rong’s death, the name felt wrong, usurped. She didn’t have much time to ponder it though. She had to help her host resist the other’s influence.
“If you think I will let you pull a Galaxia on me,” said the voice of the shiny woman in the crystal. “Think again.”
The crystal star was burning like a sun now, forcing the Slayer to avert her eyes.
--- A second later, in the real world ---
Elizabeth felt the fog leave her brain as, for an instant, the symbol of Venus flared on her brow. She jumped, as high as she could. The Slayer in her wanted to fight, but as she took height, it became clear that other ghouls were coming in her back. She bounced on the walls, reaching the rooftop. Here… it’s the end of the afternoon, but there is still sunlight. I should…
She felt his presence rising as he landed on the rooftop, haloed in unnaturally thick shadows. She tried to exchange some blows, but she soon realized that he was stronger than her as his sword cut cleanly through a steel pole. Must dodge. That sword’s not normal.
She continued to move, reaching another roof and he followed, a cruel smile on his lips.
“So you have some magic of your own to shake my thrall like you did… it is rare that witches are chosen. But it doesn’t matter. You are too young, barely trained. I am only prolonging my pleasure.”
“I am full of surprises,” she said, jumping out of the roof.
She crossed a lot of mental fingers. Jumping down ten meters wasn’t a problem. She had already done it while training. The problem was where she intended to land. She breathed of relief as she crouched, safely balanced, on the bus’ roof.
She felt his glee as the dark shadows moved on the roofs parallel to her. As long as the bus continued, she was safe. The problem was the bus stop she was seeing further in the street. She took an item in her jacket and aimed carefully, using all of her Slayer’s strength and memories of playing softball with Dawn and Celia.
She smiled as the item reached a roof exactly at the same time as the shadow and drowned the place in white fog. She lost no time and jumped again, concentrating to hold the aura trick her Mom was teaching them to erase her presence and had prevented the crowd from noticing her stunt. Hopefully, it would be enough.
--- In the empty yard, at the same time ---
Merrick held a hand on his wound as he fell. He recognized the face of the vampire that just rammed a cavalry saber through his stomach. It was Amilyn, Lothos right-hand man. The vampire searched him and took his portable vidphone, crushing it with a smile.
“Happy dying, Watcher. That will be long and very painful. I made sure to stab through your liver. My master is chasing your Slayer for his own fun… As for me…”
He nodded towards the unconscious green-haired teenager being held by another vampire. A minute earlier, she had been tasered.
“I am sure we will make good use of her talent… once she is trained to behave. Happy dying, Watcher,” he said, waving to him as they piled up in a van with blackened windows.
Suddenly, he heard a muffled sound coming from the other end of the yard, like if someone exhaled rapidly. The Slayer’s mother was there, holding a strange-looking pistol. She quickly put it back in the holster under her grey trench-coat.
She moved to him and showed him the screen of her vidphone, where a dot had started to move on a map of Los Angeles.
“Tracer round has a different meaning these days.”
“No. You heard the minion. Lothos wants her for her gifts. He won’t allow her to be ‘damaged’, at least not for the moment,” she said while typing a text message on her phone.
“Here,” she continued. “I texted her your position and the access code for the tracer’s signal. Lisa is alive but her own fight took her in the wrong direction. Even at full speed, she will need at least ten minutes to get here. I’m letting her decide if she should kill you or not.”
He looked at her eyes, trying to find some humanity in them but only saw ice. That was perhaps the worse. There was absolutely no trace of hate in her eyes. He was just a problem to be solved, an obstacle to be removed.
“Not for the likes of you, Watcher. I know what the Council will do once they realize they cannot control Lisa.”
He wanted to tell her she was wrong that what they were doing was a sacred duty… but he couldn’t. That was the worse situation they could ever be in. The Slayer’s family knew enough about the Council to never trust them and… he saw it in the woman’s stance. She was a seasoned warrior, maybe from an independent demon hunter family. No, that’s not it… she’s an assassin, maybe even a Tarakan. God preserves us if the Slayer falls in their hands…
“How much… blood…”
“Not your business. Artemis,” she said, turning to a white cat. “You wait here for Lisa and tell her to check my GPS. You also tell her that she’s in for a lot of awareness training. I will not allow that kind of rookie mistake to happen again. Last thing: she is to decide how much the Watcher is a security risk.”
“You expect her...” asked the cat.
“Her mess, she cleans up. And, yes, Watcher, that means she will kill you if she decides you’re a risk. Artemis… I know I’m harsh, but she stepped in a dangerous world. Hesitating will only get her killed.”
“Hey! I’m a cat,” replied the feline with a little laugh.
Joyce smirked and exited the yard. Merrick noted that her presence was the thing that disappeared first, like if she suddenly became unworthy of interest. He had heard from one of the junior Watchers about assassins mastering specialized forms of magic he called ‘ninja tricks’ but he had never thought he would meet one. He looked at the cat then, wondering… Of course… a lot of people only see the cute companion in cats and they forget. We forget they are very efficient predators with absolutely no shame about that fact…
--- Lothos’ lair, Los Angeles, thirty minutes later ---
Kimberly watched as her master drank the blood of the nerd freak. She thought it was a pity that Lothos had been very clear: the green-haired mutie was for him alone. Why… why did Buffy choose her over me? She’s her sister but… why was she ready to become an outcast for her?
The master vampire raised his head, letting the chained teen fall on her knees, the manacles holding her arms high against the room’s wall.
“Such fire in those purple eyes, my seer,” said Lothos, holding Dawn’s chin.
“I am not yours,” replied the teen on a flat tone.
“And what if I turned you?”
“You know better than to try… you tasted my blood. You are too smart to forge the weapon that would slay you.”
“You are truly wise beyond your years, child.”
“My sister is coming. You will die,” she said, an enigmatic smirk on her lips.
“We’ll see… Her Watcher is dead and she is barely trained. She will soon be just another Slayer I felled. I will let you watch when I kill her. After that… I will teach you your place, my seer.”
--- In the derelict yard, Los Angeles, at the same time ---
“Merrick!” yelled Elizabeth as she jumped from the warehouse’s roof.
She kneeled next to the fallen Watcher, checking for life signs. Artemis strolled behind her, catching his breath.
“I’m still alive… barely,” said the Watcher in a whisper.
“I cannot feel my legs, Elizabeth… Listen, Lothos took your sister and your mother is going after them.”
“I know… She texted me. I… Merrick, Lothos is insanely strong. He has a sword, something old and very magical that he said belonged to Attila.”
“There is a legend… Mars is supposed to have given it to Attila but… I don’t remember more. How did you survive?”
“Mom… she insists that I always have protection with me… and that sounded really wrong. Tear gas grenades. The ghouls have enhanced sense of smell, so…”
Merrick laughed then winced as the pain from his wound hit him. The Slayer’s mother did obviously not have the Watcher’s preconceptions about using modern weaponry in the demon hunting business.
“You call them ghouls and not vampires… why?”
He heard the cat say something in Japanese, cutting her sentence. She replied another thing in the same language, visibly upset.
“Sorry,” she said. “My cat just reminded me that I had to decide to let you live or not… so that I should mind how much I tell you.”
“Would you do it?”
Elizabeth closed her eyes, then opened them. It seemed to the Watcher that a little of her mother’s ice was now in them.
“Y… yes I would. The Slayer showed me the Cruciamentum. She showed me how Bernadette Laffont’s family was held hostage by your kind after she decided she wanted nothing to do with the Slayer. I have to protect my family. If that means what’s left of my innocence must die, so be it,” she said, wiping a tear.
Merrick nodded. This was getting worse and worse. The ability of the Slayer Essence to show what happened to the previous Chosen Ones to the current one was usually sketchy… and most Potentials were Watcher-raised anyway and would never dare to question them. They had no such luck in this case.
“If only there wasn’t only one Slayer… We cannot afford one turning dark…”
“Dark is not evil,” said Elizabeth, “and light is not good, Merrick. This has to stop. I will not allow any more girls to be destroyed for a war you are not interested in winning.” Have we sunk so low? She considers us to be worse than the demons. How come that she makes me ashamed to be a Watcher?
He looked at her. The astrological symbol of Venus was etched on her brow, shining a soft, golden light.
“Who… who are you?”
Her vidphone rang. She opened it and verified the message.
“Ouch… he couldn’t have chosen an easier place… like the school gym? Nooo, El’s breath! He had to set up his lair on Hollywood Boulevard!”
Merrick frowned. The girl had just spoken, even cursed, in Akkadian as if it was her native language. He looked at the cat that he had believed to be Dawn’s familiar, when he still thought the green-haired teen to be a witch in training. Now, he realized there was something else, something bigger. Reincarnation: that’s the only sensible explanation to this mess. The Slayer awakened something old in her.
“Okay… I’ve got a target,” said Elizabeth in English. “Artemis… I… Lothos is too strong. I need… the other me. Only she can do it.” Well, that confirms it nicely,
thought the Watcher.
“He’s probably doing unspeakable things to Dawn right now and if Mom is taken, she will die or worse.”
The cat nodded and jumped on a barrel. The crescent on his brow flared, a soft moonlight beam aiming at the table’s surface between his paws. A white, gold and pink scepter materialized.
“Just take it in your hand. You’ll know.”
Elizabeth extended her hand, taking the rather girly accessory. She felt a kind of warmth and she pressed it against her heart. She remembered some things, a little like the dreams the Slayer had shown her. The difference was in style. The Slayer had been all about horror movies… these memories were rather like something out of Celia’s Wedding Peach mangas. But Artemis had been right, she knew what she had to do.
“VENUS CRYSTAL POWER, MAKE UP!”
--- At the same time, in Elizabeth’s head ---
“Wrong! All wrong!” said the Slayer Essence as she observed the energy running from the crystal star to the stick in her host’s hand.
She wasn’t sure what she was doing but… she touched the star’s surface. She had expected it to burn but… it was just nicely warm. She started to feel something, emotions and concepts she had almost forgotten in her dark existence. GOODNESS!
She was hearing a gentle masculine voice telling her why she shouldn’t do some things, why compassion was not weakness but a strength, why hate and ignorance had to be fought.
Following clues she barely remembered, she started to trace symbols on the star’s crystalline surface, sending waves of purple light through its golden light FRIENDSHIP!
She was feeling all fuzzy inside. She remembered girls… she remembered one time where her best friend and she were busy trying the hammer her friend had just received from her father as she became an adult. She held the memory vivid in her soul, refusing to let it fade again in the darkness.
She continued to trace the symbols. Others symbols she did not really understand appeared in response. Following her instinct, her finger drew an answer. HAPPINESS!
The fuzziness reached her heart. She remembered being happy. It was not only the hollow satisfaction brought by destruction that had been a poor replacement for it as she passed from Slayer to Slayer. She remembered living instead of stealing the life of her hosts. She remembered a city in the clouds and playing with her pet tiger as she was a child. Now, the stars of her memories were shedding a light on the darkness of her ignorance, lighting again the fire in her soul.
This time she understood better the symbols. She had known how to write that language.
“Attention, this will reset the vajra to default configuration for user Ishtar… do you want to proceed?” she read aloud, marveling at how easily the words flowed from her mouth now. LOVE!
She staggered and started to cry as the ice in her heart and soul shattered, washing away the darkness.
“Mother… I’m so sorry… Now, I have to help Auntie Ishtar.”
She traced the last symbol, the one meaning ‘yes’.
--- Half a second later, in the physical world ---
The girly accessory called a henshin stick shattered in Elizabeth’s hand, replaced by a short golden rod with a lion head on each end. The style reminded Merrick of the mosaics on Babylon’s walls.
The magical girl transformation sequence his Slayer was going through hiccupped. The ribbon of golden stars spiraling around her exploded in a lion’s roar and the kind of leotard that had started to appear disappeared.
A second later, the stars started to agglomerate, forming metallic pieces on her naked body. Intricate, flame-like brass and orange swirls wrapped around her arms, with small chains going from the bracers to the ring on each of her now perfectly manicured fingers.
The same operation repeated on her legs, swirls forming high-heeled boots rising to her mid-thighs. A corset of flaming swirls hugged her, delicate brass chains linking it to the choker around her neck. An orange, pleated silk skirt appeared, barely descending below her waist on the right, then angling to reach her left knee.
A girdle made of a chain of interlocked hearts materialized around her waist and, finally a tiara held hair that now reached her waist, three golden spikes forming a W on the front while a star-shaped, eight-pointed emerald adorned her brow.
Merrick’s first reflex, probably brought by his rather old-fashioned upbringing, had been to tell her to cover herself but… this wasn’t the outfit of some harlot playing kinky games or a cheap costume. There was only one metal that sparkled like stars rather than shine. It was truly something out of this world that made her look like some kind of teenage goddess.
“Adamantine… a whole suit of adamantine. All the jewels in the treasure of England cannot even begin to measure up,” said the Watcher.
“Artemis?” asked Elizabeth.
“I wasn’t expecting this, but it looks familiar… I think Hephaestus forged this for you.”
An image raced through her mind, the one of a stocky bearded man… she remembered him fondly.
“Y… your Majesty,” he said, trying to bow slightly. “I see the signs… Venus, the eight-pointed star, the lion’s roar and Akkadian. You are Ishtar. The gods are walking among the men… I would like to live, to see what the new age you are heralding will bring but I know I cannot be allowed to. Even if I were to keep your secret, my order would tear it out of me. So… please do it while I still have some courage!”
“I… I, Ishtar, Queen of Venus, will grant you that wish, Merrick,” she said, tears running down her cheeks.
She raised her right hand, trying not to sob. There was something forming between her fingers, a roughly spherical jumble of rotating, searing white crescents. The ball of light flew from her hand, growing as its light became blinding, engulfing Merrick. He marveled at the apparent chaos of it that was, in fact, a very complex order. Ishtar has always been a complicated goddess,
he thought as the heat of a star’s surface vaporized him, leaving only a faint burnt trace on the floor.
“Elizabeth?” asked Artemis. “That was… Minako never had such…”
“The… Crescent Coffin, I think, but the original name is in another language. It’s the Slayer. She’s using her knack to master any weapon to help me with my powers.” Come on… no time to freak on the fact you just killed a man, Lisa. What would Mom do?
She took a deep breath.
“Artemis, you have one of those sticks for Dawn, right?”
“Give it to me. I’m going to save her and she will need it. Second, that magical storing thing you did with the stick, can you store something bigger?”
“I want you to go to Merrick’s hotel and take anything Slayer-related. We will need that information before the police finds it. After that, find Mom and stay with her.”
The cat looked at his charge and chuckled. He materialized Sailor Pluto’s henshin stick, which Elizabeth quickly put in her girdle.
“My sister is that way… I can feel her pain,” she said, waving her hand. “The world has better be ready, because here I come.”
Two wings of golden, luminescent feathers, sprung from her back. With a mighty flap, she soared in the twilight sky.
Disclaimer addenda: Part of the lyrics of the song “Radio Ga Ga” by Queen have been used in this chapter. I do not own them.