One Badass Chicken
DISCLAIMER: I don't own the characters represented in this work, those are owned by their creators, publishers, or distributors. No profit will be made. See end for surprise character.------- Start -------
One Badass Chicken
I Hope Two Plot Lines Aren't Too Confusing
5 years ago.
Robin's office was arranged like a high school headmaster's. Not especially a surprise, but it still left me with unpleasant flashbacks.
The heavy oak door opened beside a row of chairs, placed for those waiting for their turn. On the walls were various photos and important looking documents, diplomas, awards, or something. The lights were arranged to subtly focus in the direction of his desk.
And god, what a desk. An antique double fronted half pedestal, fashioned out of mahogany with brass fittings. Probably made in the 18th century, it was a gorgeous representation of woodworking craftsmanship, and Robin kept it constantly burdened and completely unoiled.
Instead of letting the pleasant smell of well worn wood permeate the room, he'd plugged an air freshener into the wall socket. Something like the stench of wildflowers filled the room, 10 minutes was enough to make me feel nauseous.
With no chair in front for visitor's use, conversations were held with one party standing and the other lounging behind a heavy mahogany desk.
In this case, it was Andrew standing in front of the desk, with me sitting by the door. Robin was reclined in a Herman Miller Aeron chair, a tasteless office chair that clashed with his gorgeous desk, listening with half hearted attention as Andrew stumbled around his greeting.
It was Andrew, so I'd forgive anyone for dozing, but for once he was talking about something genuinely interesting. Or at least he started his briefing in an interesting way.
"So because of the way the contract was structured, she ended up immolating herself." He was shaking, he was so excited.
Robin scratched his head, "I'm sorry, structured? You can't just start an entire debriefing, with what sounds like a conclusion."
It was still Andrew, after all.
Andrew looked shocked, "Haven't you read my report?"
Robin glanced at a rather intimidating pile of papers precariously stacked on the corner of his desk. Carefully, with the precision of a surgeon, he extracted a manila folder. The cover was labeled in Andrew's handwriting and the seal to keep it tidy was clearly unbroken.
He looked back to Andrew. "Of course I have, but assume I haven't." He gave me an eye roll when Andrew wasn't looking, I responded with half the rolling.
"Well," Andrew said, clearing his throat, "three weeks ago we got a report about a magic shop burning down, in Edgewater."
Robin waved a hand for him to continue.
"We did a bit of digging and it turned out the fire was caused by a witch spontaneously combusting."
Now that doesn't happen every day.
"That doesn't happen every day." Robin said.
Andrew's choked out one of those laughs you can only perform when your boss delivers a terrible joke.
It sounded better in my head.
"Right, and so, she, uh, crafted a magical contract with her boss when she got hired." Now he was gesturing at maps and diagrams that neither existed nor made any spatial sense. "It was designed to make him subjugate himself to her. I mean, like an indentured servitude thing."
"Slavery, you mean."
Robin shot me a dirty look. He probably wanted me to stay quiet.
Andrew twisted to look at me without moving his feet, "Err… Right." He turned back to Robin, "If her Boss disobeyed, he'd go up in a cloud of smoke."
Like the building, apparently.
"But, 'cause of the structure of the contract, she ended up on the subservient end instead."
Robin nodded, "By structure, do you mean the way it was written?"
"Yes." Andrew said being perfectly clear, "Well, no." he said, not being clear at all.
Robin gave him a look.
"I mean, sure, the contract was all lawyery and tricky, but by structure I mean the physical construction itself. The genius was in the ink. She mixed it with her own blood, so the contract was tied directly to her magic."
"I saw the contract, it wasn't hand written."
"Please," Andrew said, "This is the 21st century; she injected her blood into the printer cartridges, we found used syringes in her apartment."
Robin shrugged, "That didn't do her much good, she still ended up frying herself."
"Yes," Andrew said, "What she didn't realize was that her boss managed to adjust the contract. He used her seal, and made himself the master. So when she tried to kill him: poof, extra crispy."
The seal he was talking about was an item most magical practitioners used. They were imbued with a person's magic, and they allowed for someone to quickly sign documents or add their power to a ward. The methodology escaped me, as I always tried to stay away from magic. Whether it was intentional or not, magic always seemed to end in disaster when I was involved.
"I see." Robin said, displaying a face of stoic indifference. "If it was her magic that formed the contract, why is it, then, that she still suffered the effects of violating its conditions?"
"The magic doesn't care! It tore her apart from the inside! That's the beauty of it."
I wouldn't call magical immolation beautiful. Andrew wasn't of the same opinion.
"It's just; I think this whole contract thing is a great idea. It could revolutionize the way we do business. I mean, monetary ramifications are hardly a deterrent when it comes to certain demon clans." He was shaking now, so excited his cheeks were red from forgetting to breathe. "This way enforcement is automatic and completely unavoidable, I mean, this stuff is totally unexplored, I could – I mean we could be pioneers!
"Forget it." Robin said, "Giles will never go for it." But I could already see him puzzling it over.
"It's got great potential!"
That's what you call a guy with buck teeth and a Daffy Duck voice.
Robin shook his head, "I don't know. I'm not feeling it. We've been handling things fine. Why complicate things?"
"I'll talk to Giles," Andrew said, "I'm sure once I explain it to him he'll approve."
"Go ahead." Robin said. "I clearly can't stop you."
Andrew nodded while reaching out to grab the case files. Robin stopped him by put a hand down on top of the pile.
"Let me look them over, alright?"
"Sure" Andrew looked ecstatic, "Sure, absolutely, go right ahead. Just remember, it's my idea."
"Yeah, okay." Robin said, nodding his head, "You go talk to Giles."
Not so much throwing him out, as holding open the door and staring really hard in its general direction. Andrew took the hint and made like a tree.
He got out of there.
I let the door close before I stood up.
Robin tossed the contract papers into his bottom drawer with practiced disinterest.
"Well, it's good to see you Xander."
I wasn't really in the mood for pleasantries, it was 10:30am by then, and his email this morning told me to arrive at 10am.
"Your email said you had an assignment for me?"
Robin nodded, "Yes, something which I think you'll enjoy." He pulled a manila folder from a stack of papers off his desk, "We've been getting some information lately about an underground fighting arena run by a group of demons."
"Is it clan run?"
"No, independents; a mix of different species."
Not unusual. Fight clubs were typically formed by outcasts, those who wanted to pit themselves against other demons without the risk of starting a war. It's not that all demons formed into clans, but it wasn't uncommon for demon species to stick with those of the same species.
"Do you want me to bust it apart?"
"No, observation for now. We're hoping this'll lead to more information on their activity. we'll use slayers if we take them down."
I wasn't dumb enough to start an argument.
"Here in Cleveland actually."
"Surprisingly not, it's only a twenty minute drive from here. It appears they've set up shop in the basement of an office building."
I could tell Robin was a little incredulous too. What group of porridge brained imbeciles gathered a demon fight club naught half an hour from the largest collection of demon fighter this side of North America.
That just screamed forethought.
"It's amazing the kind of intelligence you get from people who spend their time beating each other half to death."
Did I say that out loud?
Robin continued, holding the folder above the desk, "All the information you could need is in here. Their next scheduled fight is tonight at 9:30 tonight and I expect you to attend."
Thanks for the heads up.
"Yes I realize it's rather last minute."
Okay, I definitely wasn't speaking out loud.
"Great, an evening watching the demon equivalent to UFC, I'm sure it'll be chock full of intelligent discussion and polite discourse."
"I'm sorry," said Robin, "did I say the demons were fighting?"
"No," I said, "But when you said a demon fighting arena, I took that to mean a demon fighting arena. I realize that's an easy mistake to make."
"No thanks, I prefer tacos."
His face twisted into a grimace, but he schooled it so fast I thought I imagined the disgust. "I mean it's a cock fighting ring." His switch flipped, he was practically frothing smugness. "They get together and bet on roosters."
"You mean you're sending me out to investigate a chicken fighting club run by demons?"
"When I said, I wanted you to look into a demon run fighting ring; I meant that I wanted you to look into a demon run fighting ring. I realize that's an easy mistake to make."
Oh he was just a treat.
I was balling my fists tight, to stop myself from saying something I'd regret later. That wasn't difficult when you have a mouth as wide as mine.
"I'll get my equipment together." I said through clenched teeth, grabbing the folder a bit rougher than necessary.
"Remember," Robin said, as if he hadn't made it exceedingly clear, "you're just observing. Leave the heavy lifting to the girls." Then he laughed as if this ironic statement based on the dissonance between strength and appearance of slayers was inventive and new.
"No problem." I said, casting one last longing gaze at that mahogany desk before leaving. I would have slammed the door, but I respected the oak too much to risk damaging it.
I was good and steamed by that point, and I had plenty of time to kill before heading out, so I returned to my room and changed.
A couple rounds with a heavy bag was a cliché but effective way to calm down.
Cleveland house was built in the remains of an old dormitory. When the Council took over I renovated it top to bottom to make it slayer worthy. Say what you will about teenage girls, but you better hope you have enough washrooms and a big enough boiler to keep everyone in hot showers all day long.
My room was upstairs close to the fire escape, with a window facing the street. The majority of my woodworking tools I kept in a work shed out back, which left my other crap to fill the room. It was mostly geek stuff, save for the box I kept hidden in my closet. That was special.
I swapped my jeans and t-shirt for sweat pants and a Nike top that had list of 'technological innovations' the length of my arm.
That done, I headed for the stairs.
The fitness center was built into what use to be the ground floor recreation room and weight room. We tore out the old carpet and wood flooring and replaced it with concrete and wall to wall rubber mats. We segmented it into three divisions: weights, martial arts, and free space.
The weights were straight forward enough. The only difference from a commercial gym was the lack of any machines. This was because machines tend towards isolation training, which targets only major muscle groups; thereby failing to account for stabilization muscles and other support muscles.
And while my own preference lay with bodyweight training, which reliably builds functional muscle, a Slayer's strength to weight ratio made this method insufficient for building strength.
Instead we stocked this area with barbells, kettle bells, medicine balls, dumbbells, and various other free weights of monstrous mass. Of course we had the standard pull up bar stations, but those had to be supplemented with weighted belts, or weights that the slayers could hold between their legs.
Unlike many gym-goers, we weren't aiming for sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (volume), instead, sacromere hypertrophy (density), flexibility, and balance. The hardest part had been breaking the notion that lifting weights would make the slayers look big and 'muscley'. Women just don't produce enough testosterone naturally to bulk up like a body builder. That comes from banned substances.
The martial arts area was a fully stocked armory of training weapons; bo staffs, swords both eastern and European, and a variety of more exotic implements lined the walls.
Speed bags, heavy bags, or my preferred wooden man dummies (mak yan jung), in both Wing Chun and Choy Lay Fat style, were spread out evenly with plenty of space between. In the center was a sparring area.
Free space was straight forward enough, just an empty area the slayers could stretch in. Or anything else that caught their fancy, like Jazzercizing or something. That was a phase I wouldn't miss.
In the end, the martial arts section was mostly a disappointment. Too many slayers relied on their innate knowledge of martial arts to fight, and while this made them forces to be reckoned with, it was a waste of potential. Using moves with no knowledge of why or for what led to fundamental gaps from knowledge to application. While each slayer could tailor their knowledge to suit their unique styles, they ended up fighting in the same inefficient way, with too many flips and flashy moves to truly be efficient.
The Wing Chun dummy was empty, of course, so I warmed up by running through a few forms.
A wooden man dummy is essentially a wood approximation for the lines of attack your opponent can make. It has four appendages, two arms angled outward, one arm below them angles straight out, and a bent leg further below that. They're typically associated with southern Kung Fu styles, but I've found that most martial arts can be applied to them, and they're a great way to take a technique from theory to practice.
Before actually using it on someone, of course.
The rhythmic sound of flesh on wood would have echoed if the floors weren't rubber, but the soft smacks were therapeutic enough. Some people play ambient ocean sounds or slowed down Justin Bieber to find their calm, this was way better.
I was fully engrossed now, like I was in a trance, flowing from move to move without thought, without pause. My forearms were stinging, but that only made me hit the dummy harder. Wing Chun, Shotokan karate, Kali, a variety of forms and different applications; blended into a cohesive whole.
I was about ready to move on to some bag work when I felt the footsteps of someone from behind.
I spun around before they could speak, "What's up." I was a little disappointed they weren't surprised.
"I've never seen anyone use those before; I always wondered how they worked. It looks very impressive." Farheen said. She was dressed in sweats too, with the addition of a sports hijab, but unlike me she wasn't sweating out a puddle. She was a seventeen year old from Seattle, quiet, because she was keenly aware of the power words held.
I wiped the sweat from my brow, "They're not hard to use, would you want me to teach you?"
She nodded, "I wanted to talk with you first."
"What do you think of hijab?"
It took me a second to understand what she meant. Hijab traditionally, refers to the belief of modest dress practiced by Muslims. These days it just refers to a head scarf.
"You mean like a burka? Are people giving you trouble about that? I realize Cleveland's not the most progressive city, but there's a pretty strong Muslim community." I didn't really keep up with the slayers when they went into the city, they were smart and knew not to get caught up in anything dangerous.
"I mean a chador, and it's not the people in the city that are giving me trouble."
So much for team solidarity. I wasn't exactly a shining beacon on tolerance, after all, I was pretty open about my rabid hate for vampires, but I wanted to believe these girls would be better than that. Buffy's experience of becoming an outcast once she received her powers wasn't universal, but surely these girls could respect opposing religious beliefs.
"I'll talk to them." I knew instantly that was the wrong thing to say. Had tons of high school dramas, not that I'd admit to watching any, shown me how not to deal with bullying. Stepping in like an asshole would only make it worse for her.
Her face showed what she thought of that idea, "No, that would only make it worse." She looked away for a moment, perhaps recalling their words. "They said I can't patrol in a chador, that I'll get them killed." I was pretty sure she was paraphrasing in an exceptionally polite way.
A chador is similar to a burqa, and they're often confused as each other, the difference lies in the amount of face covered. Burqa use a veil to cover the entire face, while a chador leaves the face exposed.
With their voluminous amounts of clothe, neither were really ideal fighting garments.
Still, it wasn't like a miniskirt and high heels was much better, and Buffy wore those throughout her entire high school career.
I was panicking big time. As cultural sensitivity goes I'm pretty ignorant, I use crosses to deter vampires, and that's about it. Hell, I use to think Muhammad was a boxer. Turns out that was Cassius Clay.
"Err… is wearing a chador important to you? I mean, I believe some women interpret the need for hijab in the context to their surroundings, regular clothes and a head scarf might suffice."
It seemed that if white women had their way, the burqa and all its cousins would be outlawed for their use as tools to oppress women. But most Muslim women, who have a choice, seem to think the hijab was like the greatest thing ever. It was described to me once as sort of like bringing the security of your house along with you. I can't begrudge anyone that.
"InshAllah," She said, "But I feel more comfortable in a full covering. It gives me confidence."
It was interesting how luck works in modern America. Ask any normal citizen if they believe in magic and they'd probably say no. But most still adhere to rituals that they believe bring them good luck. Whether it's normal superstitions like stepping on cracks, or growing a beard for the playoff, there seems to be some underlying belief that by performing some action, something good would happen in exchange.
But making a house combat worthy? There's only one way to find out if it was possible.
"Pardon?" now she looked shocked, I should have been offended.
"I want to see you fight."
Inevitably she protested, "But you're just-"
"A regular human, don't worry about it." I could finish that sentence without even trying.
She paused a moment. "Okay."
She led me to the sparring area, before taking position an arm's length away. She dropped into a stance.
It was a typical sort of boxing stance. I reciprocated by moving into a Jeet Kune Do on stance.
Then she moved, faster than I could possibly see.
It didn't matter, before she even realized it, I had moved to parry. Not block, because that would have torn my arm out of its socket. An instant of surprise appeared on her face, a small grin formed.
She was going easy on me. But now that she knew I could handle it she wasn't going to hold back.
Her punches were good. She avoided the problem many slayers had with telegraphing, that is, pulling the hand back before punching. It didn't add much power and told the whole world you were going to attack.
Farheen seemed to be well adept with boxing, throwing quick combinations that had me squirming and twisting to dodge. I wouldn't be able to take a hit; even one of her jabs would have been fight ending.
I snapped a kick at her thigh as I darted back. It connected enough to falter her, giving me precious seconds to catch my breath. I was sweating hard and my sweatpants felt like they were made of lead.
It wasn't a competition, but I didn't want to lose. Farheen was of the same mindset. She charged back in. I wouldn't be able to take much more of this, I needed to end the fight now.
Her jab passed by, followed by her right cross. I checked it with my left hand, and used my right to guide it past me.
That left her arm between us, with no way for her to rotate to attack.
Twisting her arm into an elbow lock was preschool.
I gave her a moment to puzzle out how to escape, before I added a bit of pressure to make her tap out.
Instead she dropped fast, and then twisted through the opening between us, pulling her arm free, and twisting my arm behind my back.
She pushed my arm straight while simultaneously twisting my wrist skyward. A wrist lock.
She held it with enough pressure to hurt.
"Give." She said, making sure to assert that it wasn't a question.
I kicked her shin.
Her flinch was enough for me to reverse my grip and throw my leg around her.
Ordinarily a slayer would be able to take my weight no problem, but she was already unbalanced so she couldn't help but topple.
We rolled, landing flat on our backs, her arm between my legs. I pulled it up to my chest, while keeping my hips down. I'd performed what is known as a flying arm bar. Flying because you have to jump to perform it, and arm bar, because it puts your opponent in an arm bar. Duh.
When properly executed there aren't many ways to escape. She tapped.
I let myself breathe again. Without disabling moves or a nasty bag of tricks, fighting a slayer was difficult. More than that, Farheen was good. Really, really good. Pure luck was all that allowed me to achieve the arm bar, and in a real fight she probably could have torn my leg off from that position.
Her reflexes were excellent, and while she still suffered from using that bastardized slayer fighting style, she'd adapted it unconsciously to suit her own sensibilities.
I wasn't sure if she'd noticed, but she'd made many adjustments to suit fighting while wearing concealing clothing.
I gave myself a moment to catch my breath.
"You instinctively shuffle your feet. Wearing something like high heels, that's a terrible idea, but with sneakers under a chador it completely eliminates any ability to predict what your footwork is doing. Your hands are also constantly shifting. I don't know if you realized, but in the dark they'll blend in with the body portion of your chador, making your punches even more unpredictable.
You can't grapple though. Long hair is enough of a problem in a close quarters fight; your chador will only make you vulnerable to grabs."
She didn't say anything.
"Are you okay?"
She sighed, "Just disappointed I guess, I thought I'd be able to beat you."
I couldn't help the grin that spread across my face, "If you weren't worried about injuring me, how would you escape my armbar?"
"I'd bite your leg," she said without any hesitation.
I nodded, "The reason you don't kick is because you're worried someone would be able to grab your leg, right?"
"Yes," She said, "I usually use a weapon to extend my reach."
That was good, "And if you're disarmed?"
She shrugged, "Then I improvise or fight hand to hand."
I was honestly impressed. She was the kind of pragmatic you wanted in a warrior.
"What do you think about fair fight?"
"It's not fair unless I have an advantage."
I was liking her more and more.
"I think you'll be fine. You'll kill more vamps than the rest of the other slayers combined."
She nodded, "Thank you."
'Now," I said, "why don't I show you how a wooden dummy works."
She smiled, I'd lie and say it was like the sun rising or being born a new. It wasn't.
But it was a very nice smile.------- BREAK -------
After finishing up with Farheen I grabbed a bite to eat in the kitchen, before showering so I didn't stink up the place. I changed into jeans, hoodie, baseball cap, and a beaten up brown bomber jacket. Tonight I wanted to look like some vampire asshole.
As opposed to some human asshole.
I checked myself over once again. A variety of knives tucked away around my body, and a handgun concealed in a hidden inner pocket I'd sewn into the lining of the jacket. That was pretty standard kit. I brought my driver's license, but I'd leave that in the car. If I got caught I didn't want to be carrying anything that could identify me or lead back to the house.
It wasn't the most comfortable outfit for lounging, but I wanted to give them the appearance of being worn and I needed to get use to moving around in them.
I killed time on my laptop until it was close to eight. That'd give me plenty of time to case the place before going in.
As I was heading for the staircase, the unfiltered voices of a few of the slayers became audible.
"It's like she wants to be a raghead." That must have been Linda, a Chinese-Canadian girl from Alberta.
"They're all jackers, you know. We're doing her a favor." Amanda, a native Ohioan.
I wanted to turn around and do something. Anything. But Farheen was right; I'd only make it worse. This was her fight, and I had no right to step in. Fulfilling my duty as the Kevin Costner in this charade would only end in Water World.
I meant train wreck.
I left the house and grabbed a Twinkie from my work shed out back. I had a secret stash saved for special occasions. I figured this warranted it.
I hopped in one of the old sedans we kept around for short trips. We also had a van, but that was for patrol since we could fit more people in the back.
The sedan was automatic and under powered, but our budget didn't really allow for anything else; mostly because a majority of it went towards Robin's Lexus.
He drove that car everywhere, but apparently it gave him a pretty good sense of the city. It really did only take twenty minutes to get to the gambling den. Or maybe he googled it.
I said they were stupid for setting up shop so close to us, but they weren't so dumb in choosing to hide downtown.
If there's one thing you learn about Cleveland, it's that the entire city's a shit hole.
It's no Detroit, but anywhere with an economy that centers entirely on LeBron James is in some serious trouble.
For example, America's average of violent crimes per one thousand people is around four. Ohio is in comparison is a relatively safe state with an average of 3. Cleveland tips the scale at around 14. That's not an optimistic number.
With over 70,000 abandoned residences and a median household income half that of the national average, it should come as no surprise that Cleveland's a rough place.
Suddenly a Hellmouth begins to make sense.
In any case, general perception seems to be that downtown Cleveland is a cesspool of crime and violence.
They're wrong... Sort of.
In recent years, a lot has been done to clean up the downtown core, and crime statistics indicate a growing trend outside of Cleveland's downtown. But these statistics only track reported human crimes.
Moving an illegal betting ring into the downtown core is a pretty smart move. Being demon run, it's a hell of a lot less likely for police to give a shit. Bystander syndrome plays in full effect here. You see, the police have done a good job moving out human trouble makers, which leaves a gap for enterprising demons to fill. Their crimes don't get reported, and so the disparity in statistics appears.
Cesspool of human crime? No. But no matter who went before you, if you stick your foot down a latrine it's never coming out clean.
I was getting close to the site, so I parked the car on a main street. I wanted it to be as visible as possible. After all, if I ended up needing to leave in a hurry I didn't want to return to find the car gta'd.
It looked like you needed a parking pass for overnight stays. I checked the car in front, an old Toyota, but both doors were locked. It was the newer BMW behind me that was unlocked. Their parking pass went on top of the sedan's dashboard.
With the hoodie and bomber jacket on it wasn't cold out, but I wasn't interested in hanging around. I used a folded up map Robin had provided to navigate toward my target.
It was a couple blocks from the nearest main street. I passed only a few people on the way there: couples headed home, or people pre-DUI stumbling to their cars.
The doorway was innocuous enough, with a vampire pretending to be a sheltered hobo. I didn't need the map for confirmation; he stood out like a beacon. I sat down at a bus stop parallel to him, just outside his field of view. I pretended to look tired and bored.
Frustrated people waiting for non-existent buses were a common occurrence in Cleveland. No one would have paid me a single bit of attention.
It seemed that he was just there to keep an eye out for cops. There wasn't a need to show ID or anything like that, and most people walked past him without a single glance.
After a while of that, I stood up from the bench faking annoyance, as if I was going to walk home. I turned the corner out of his sight and headed for the back alley.
I didn't intend for things to go wrong, but it never hurt to check for back exits.
There were a couple of plain panel vans in the back, with humanoid looking demons shifting things from the back into the building. They weren't all speaking English and the ones that were, mostly complained about the shitty hours and lousy pay.
Some things are universal.
It wasn't dark yet, so I had to stick to physical cover. I ducked behind an industrial garbage bin. I was hoping the smell would deter anyone with a sensitive nose from detecting me.
The one in the hat was the boss. I couldn't understand what he was saying, but the sound of someone giving you shit for working too slow is shared among all languages.
Hatboss was good and pissed too; he was slapping one of the movers hard. No one dared to move. He threw in a couple more shots, before taking a deep breath. When he looked up everyone hurried to look like they'd been working. One guy struggled with a rooster cage.
I pulled my phone out and opened the camera app. It was dark and I was far away, but I managed to steady myself on the trash bin and get a grainy shot of Hatboss's face. I captured his underling's mugs too just in case.
That was enough for me. I left Hatboss to chew out the rest of his gang.
Once I cleared the alley I pulled my baseball cap down tighter. It was a Cavaliers cap, one of thousands in the city, I didn't know if they had cameras, but I wasn't going to take any chances. The false hobo by the door looked up as I approached.
Fake or not he smelt like the real deal. I gave him my best smile and passed him a twenty.
No one was expected to tip him, so twenty dollars was enough for him to return the grin, he even held the door open. Hopefully he'd put it towards a new aftershave.
If you were expecting a dark, seedy gambling den; you would have been sorely disappointed, or perhaps pleasantly surprised. It was no Four Seasons, but the walls and stairs were clean, and somebody had clearly been reading some interior design magazines. It smelt like someone had bought out a Wal-Mart's candle department, then burned them all in one go.
There were even no smoking signs plastered on the walls, I guess they weren't interested in starting a fire the core of downtown.
Or they were out of candles.
The stairs opened up to an auditorium, with two bars on both sides and bleacher style seats that circled the fighting arena. There were six aisles that ran the length of the bleachers; they terminated at the wall to the ring. The actual fighting pit was lowered enough that there ¾ size doors at opposite ends, presumably they'd bring the fighters out from there.
I sidled up to the closest bar and ordered a beer. By this point the arena was half full, with demons of all shapes and sizes. Most were milling about, a drink in hand.
I didn't really want nor need the drink, but it helped me blend and gave me a weapon just in case. I started scanning the crowd.
"This is an outrage!" A voice said. It sounded calm, but it was loud and projected so far, it might have well of been a rabid scream. A hulking figure towered above one of the floor mangers. I couldn't tell what kind of demon he was, but his skin had the texture of rock and he was dressed in what looked to be a finely tailored suit. "I paid good money for this seat, you can't just tell me to move."
"I'm sorry sir" said the manager, who managed to look both apologetic and exasperated at the same time, "If you sit there, you'll block the view of other customers." He had a shifty weasel look to him, the kind you see in every underpaid criminal with a managerial position. Almost improbably he spoke with a Jersey accent.
I was getting a feel for the business now; standing room was free, but if you wanted a seat you'd have to pay. The money from the seats was inconsequential compared to the betting, but business is business.
"You can't do that."
"Look sir, I'll reimburse you the cost of your ticket, and you can have a seat on one of the upper rows. I'm sorry, but we can't have you blocking the view of other customers." Weasel was rubbing his hands together, "Drinks are on me, whah dah yah say?"
Mountain looked like he wanted to put up more of a fight, but once he noticed the security team edging closer he deflated.
"Fine." He said, "You may have your seat back."
He turned away and hulked up the stairs towards me. Behind him the manager unlocked his legs, buckling to the ground almost instantly. I could hardly blame him.
Up close the rock like skin looked less B-movie, more a collective of small sharp knives. Not to mention the way his muscles bulged through his suit, he could have lifted as semi truck over his head and I wouldn't have batted an eyelash. I'd probably need new pants though.
He looked at my drink, "Sorry about that, I didn't mean to make a scene. What are you drinking?"
His voice was like glass through a vacuum cleaner, but at least he wasn't shouting now. "Err, it's a pilsner."
He turned to the bartender, "One pilsner." It was passed over immediately, which was at least 300x faster than I'd gotten mine. "I didn't know vampires drank beer."
Oh shit oh shit.
"The taste makes me nostalgic."
He nodded, "You can call me Amanda."
I smiled back at her, "Alex." Nothing quite like feeling like an idiot.
So that was unexpected, but if she was friendly, who was I to deny a source of information? Honestly, I felt like a bit of a dick head, but I had a hard enough time telling the gender of some humans. I could forgive myself for this one.
"So, come here often?"
A single rocky brow rose, "Are you hitting on me?"
"Err… Yes?" There wasn't an Oscar coming my way anytime soon.
She burst out laughing "I can see you're not interested, no need to try and flatter me."
"Sorry, I'm new to this scene. I was hoping you could fill me in."
She nodded, "Fair enough. Its standard betting really, the bookies office posts the odds two weeks ahead of time, but I assume if you don't know that, you didn't make a bet."
"Yep, I'm just here for the booze and entertainment." It wasn't much of a joke, and she hardly registered I'd said it.
"There's three rounds, with the fights done like a gauntlet. If a rooster wins, it continues to the next round, last rooster standing's the champion."
"So who's running this shindig? In case I want to make friends." I was hoping that didn't sound too suspicious.
"See those two?" She said indicating down to Hatboss, who was talking to a barely clothed Amazonian beauty, she was at least a good foot taller than he was. "That's Edmund Bargas and Andrea Kent; they organize the show and bring the fighters together."
With more light than the back alley, I could get a better look at Bargas. He was average height, and average build. But I was pretty sure he was a vampire, and size really didn't mean much when it came to them. He must've liked his movies; he looked straight out of The Matrix, with a long black leather coat that would have cost more than the sedan I'd driven here with. Kent had similarly expensive tastes, but while Bargas looked comical, she looked like a stunning combination of violence and refinement.
I couldn't tell you what she was wearing, but spend enough time around fashionable girls and stay bored enough to read the magazines they leave lying around, and you get some vague notion of how the mysteries of women's clothing works. I hadn't decoded the cipher yet, but I could at least tell the dress she was wearing probably had some famous designers name printed on a label, and was made of something like the silk of rare African spiders.
I pulled my phone out, pretending someone had texted me. I opened the camera app, and as I shoved it back in my pocket I tapped it a couple times to get a picture of Bargas and Kent. She had an arm around his shoulder, it looked like a two by four compared to his neck.
"Are these usually fights only?"
"Usually it," Amanda said, "But apparently there's going to be a special auction tonight; must be something big. Kent would have brought it in, she's the business woman."
I filed that information away. "You sound like you have personal experience with them."
"We're members of the same country club."
Huh. That was new.
"What's it take to join?"
"-To join the waiting list for the waiting list."
"Know any female members looking for a one eyed boyfriend. I can tell you we let our eyes wander half as much as a regular guy."
The lights in arena switched on, diverting attention to the fight floor. An announcer dressed in lurid red held a mic loosely in his hands, "Welcome ladies and gentlemen! We've got a special night for you tonight. First off, let's welcome our first round of fighters!" His mustache quivered as he spoke. He stroked it like it was waxed.
"I know you've been waiting for this. Remember, the winner of each fight moves onto the next round. No breaks! The last rooster standing will be our champion."
Doors on opposing sides of the arena opened, with a large demon carrying one rooster cage each.
"Let's get started!"
"In this corner," The announcer said, despite the arena being circular, "The fierce cockerel from Columbia, Chocobo Chuck!"
The black rooster was met with a wave of polite applause.
Where his previous attitude was enthusiastic, he got downright ecstatic. A broad expanse of white appeared beneath the fur patch on his upper lip. "And in this corner, the invincible, the unstoppable, the undefeated," he took a breath "POYO!"
The red rooster raised his head as if he understood the announcer. He wore a black and blue luchador mask, a crown rested a top his cage.
"POYO! POYO! POYO!" The audience chanted back. They were screaming now, waving flags; they even had those stupid #1 gloves. It could have been a basketball game, if the people weren't cheering for cocks to tear into each other.
Maybe it was a basketball game.
Amanda leaned closer so she wouldn't have to shout, "They're cheering for Poyo, he's won fifteen fights now."
"So how does anyone make any money?" If one bird won all the time, it wasn't much of a bet.
"A lot of the people cheering are hoping he'll finally fall, no rooster has ever been on a winning streak this long."
"What do you think?"
With not a hint of doubt she said, "Poyo is unbeatable."
Down in the ring the announcer had to shout to be heard over the crowd, "ARE YOU READY?!"
"POYO! POYO! POYO!" The crowd answered.
That was enough for him, because then shoved his fist in the air and screamed, "FIGHT!"
He ran and vaulted the barrier. I guess he didn't want to be in the ring.
The cage doors opened, and if it was possible the crowd went even crazier.
And I knew then why Amanda was so confident.
Poyo pounced, and it was the most astounding thing I'd ever seen. Chocobo Chuck was fighting outside his weight class, he was up creek without a paddle, he was getting his ass kicked.
Where he tried to peck and scream, Poyo bobbed and weaved. And once Chocobo Chuck left an opening, Poyo attacked. A jumping side kick went through Chocobo Chuck's guard and catapulted him across the arena into the wall. I saw why the arena was painted red.
To conceal the blood.
Poyo didn't let up; he hauled Chocobo Chuck to his feet, and put him in a choke hold. How was that even possible, he was a rooster for chrissakes.
And as soon as it had begun, it was over. Chocobo Chuck, once proud and tall, had been reduced to a quivering sack of feathers. Poyo, with the majesty of a king, looked like could go ten more rounds.
The next two rounds were much the same. None of the other roosters could possible hope to match Poyo, who tore through them like a shotgun with a barrel of fish.
I couldn't hear myself think over the roars of the crowd, many were celebrating loudly, while others cried with unrestrained remorse.
I understood some people would have to bet on the underdog, but how could anyone even think another living creature could ever hope to match Poyo. I'd seen slayers who fought worse.
"Let's give it up for Poyo, ladies and gentlemen." The announcer had kept his commentary from the side of the ring. "Remember, our office where you placed your bets will now be open for you to collect your winnings." He rubbed his hands together, "Unless of course you lost money."
Dutifully Poyo returned to his cage. It was placed on a pedestal, on the far side of the ring, for all to see. The crown gleamed in the light, looking like a declaration of victory.
The announcer returned to the center of the ring, he held his hands up for silence, when he got it be spoke, "Now, for our special event! Ladies and Gentlemen, I hope you're prepared for this!"
A hushed whisper rushed through the crowd, speculation and curious interest.
If this was an auction, I needed to know what they were selling. It didn't seem likely Poyo would be on offer, he was a gold mine of potential, no way would anyone let go of that.
My question was answered in the worst way possible.
"From our very own state of Ohio, this is your opportunity to purchase, your own SLAYER!"
I almost swallowed my beer bottle.
His scream was punctuated by another demon bringing out a young girl. She must have been between 16 and 20, with long brown hair and olive skin. She couldn't walk straight; the demon had to drag her as she stumbled forward. Her hands were bound, but they left her legs free.
A collective gasp filled the room, some demons started to panic.
"Worry not; she's been dosed to keep her completely docile." The announcer was eating it up; he must have been so pleased. "Now, what will you offer for this once in a lifetime opportunity to own your own slayer?"
I needed to try something
"How do we know she's really a slayer?" I kept a hand pressed over my mouth to try and distort my voice. Amanda gave a curious look, but I couldn't worry about that now. "You can't trust him."
"Well why not?" Someone asked.
"Because he has a mustache?"
"He does have a mustache!"
"Yeah, fuck that guy."
The announcer started flapping, looking back and forth as spectators started hurling accusations around. This was exactly what I needed, enough doubt to call off the sale, or some other way to give me another angle of attack.
I knew they'd leave out the back if it went sour. I could intercept them in the alley.
That plan crumbled.
"She's a slayer because I give you my word!" Bargas said, standing at the foot of the ring, "My word is as good as a guarantee! That man does not have a mustache."
And that was it, the entire room was silenced.
The announcer unpeeled his stick on mustache.
Kent smiled, "Why don't we start the bidding at $10,000." She eyed the announcer.
He got the message, "Do we have $10,000? Anyone?"
And then the crowd took off for an entirely different reason.
"That poor girl," Amanda sighed draining the rest of her beer.
I was panicking now. How could this happen, how could the council let this happen? And more importantly, was this happening with other girls?
I couldn't think about that now, I had to focus. How could I save this girl? My hands were clenching, and unclenching as my head spun. My brain was running calculations faster than it ever had before.
Amanda must have seen what I was thinking. "Don't, she's a slayer, you'll only get yourself killed."
"She's just a girl," I said, "I have to do something."
"You're awfully compassionate for a vampire. Slayers are your natural enemy."
"No one deserves what they're doing to her."
I couldn't stop myself now. It was stupid. I should've waited for a buyer, tail them and take her then. Not charge down into the middle of a crowd of demons pumped up on adrenaline, gallons of booze, and whatever illegal substances they'd smuggled in. The rational side of my brain was telling me to sit the hell down and shut up and stay quiet. She'd be safe till the buyer got her to a new location.
I couldn't convince myself that was the truth.
I was already moving. I had to break through the crowd that'd formed a standing barrier, but once I was free it was a free sprint through the seated area.
I ignored any attempts to stop me, weaving between people like an organic obstacle course.
I vaulted over the barrier into the ring; cries of surprise followed close behind me.
"What the hell are you doing!?" cried the announcer.
I drew my gun, a Colt 1911 in condition one. That meant there was a round in the chamber and the gun was cocked, only the safety prevented it from firing.
I flicked the safety off.
"I'm taking the girl."
The announcer growled, "No one takes from Mr. Bargas without paying."
"I hope you accept lead, I'm all out of cash." Then I pulled the trigger. I wanted to pat myself on the back.
A .45 caliber bullet exited the muzzle of the colt at 370m/s, impacting his forehead with over 800J of force.
It bounced off his skull like I hadn't even pulled the trigger. I might as well have thrown a pebble.
"You're in for a deep dicking now boy." He scoffed. That was probably the most ominous threat I'd ever received in my life.
He punched me in the chest. It felt like all my ribs breaking at once.
The force of the blow took me airborne, smashing Poyo's cage open on my way to the ground.
The crowd was silent.
The announcer approached, stretching out his back, I noticed then how broad he looked. With his hand no longer wrapped around the mic I could see how talon like they appeared. Each of his nails as sharpened off to a deadly point.
It really was a stupid plan.
He picked up my gun from where it had fallen and approached slowly. It was dramatic bullshit; he should have just shot me from where he stood, but god if it wasn't terrifying. Each step was war drums in my ear.
I couldn't pull myself up. My head was a mess, a foggy cloud of oh shit that hurts and fucking hell I'm an idiot. I was pushing against the ground, but hell if it wasn't pulling back at me.
The announcer unnecessarily racked the Colt's slide, an unspent round flew out the side. "Good by Mister Pirate." Then he smiled like it was funny.
Christ, I couldn't die with that being the last thing I heard. I had to get up.
He raised the gun and his neck tore open, blood exiting. His body collapsed from under him.
The invincible, unstoppable, undefeated rooster touched down lightly, he flicked his claw free of blood like a samurai's katana.
"POYO!" The announcer choked blood where breath should be. He expired, his dreams of life as a wrestling commentator dying with him.
I think I should explain: Poyo was born in the cold winter of Russia, deep in the heart of Chernobyl. With the plant's explosion, an untold number of demons were irradiated; even now the descendants of those demons possess traits seen nowhere else in the world. When Poyo's mother gave birth to him, his egg rolled out of the nest and into the irradiated remains of a Sargerath demon. The blood of Sargerath demons is known to imbue supernatural abilities to those who consume it, irradiated as it was, the effects it had on the still incubating Poyo were unknown. After being born, Poyo left Russia for the mountainous regions of China, where he studied ancient martial arts from a grandmaster known only as Pai Mei. After a month of training Poyo had surpassed the abilities of his master, and had uncovered the secret deadly arts of Tiger Palm Kung Fu. He then began his travels across the globe, hunting for action and adventure.
Actually, I'm lying. None of that is true.
Poyo is just really really badass.
Poyo looked at me, then looked at the slayer, then looked back at me. He nodded.
I knew what he was saying. Fuck this was insane; I was going to fight my way out with the help of a rooster.
I pried my Colt from the finger of the past expired announcer. Fuck him; he didn't need it any more.
The crowd was reacting now. Bargas and Kent were on their feet. Bargas was turning purple and Kent was looking incredible sexy.
I meant angry.
The demon that brought the girl in was getting anxious, looking between me and Poyo like one of us was going to tear his head off.
I put him out of my misery.
I didn't know what he was, but the bullet tore through his head like he was human. The slayer collapsed to the ground without his support. I grabbed her before her head hit the ground. It wasn't concrete, but I didn't want to risk her getting a concussion when she was drugged to the gills.
Poyo was busy keeping another demon at bay, pummeling its guard with a variety of kicks and slashes.
"I'm going to get you out of here. We're getting to safety." I didn't know if the girl could hear me, but I didn't want her struggling. The vampire may have been able to control her, but even if she was drugged she might have been able to overpower me.
"POYO!, we need to get out of here!"
He squawked in reply, then spun kick a shirtless demon into two others. They went down like bowling pins.
We needed an out, I ran to one of the ring entrances. I threw my weight and the slayers into it but nothing gave. I shot another vampire on the way to the other one. No joy. They must have been bolted on the inside.
"No good," I shouted to Poyo, "We'll have to go out the main entrance."
But Bargas wasn't having any of that, "Kill them, but don't harm the slayer!"
More demons were running down the aisles, there was no way we could fight our way past them. I shot the first one climbing into the ring. It made him stumble, but it didn't kill him.
We were desperate and they knew it. Poyo would be swarmed soon and I couldn't fight while holding onto the slayer. I couldn't fire blindly either. I didn't want to hit any innocents, even if they were demons.
Once we were surrounded it would be game over.
"Hey!" a familiar voice screamed, "You spilled my drink!"
That was all the warning I got, before Amanda grabbed a passing vampire and threw him down the aisle.
Every single demon in that aisle was bowled over; it was like the parting of the red sea.
There was our opening.
"Yah lousy basterd-" She slurred, "Bartender, gimme another!" She deserved every single golden statue and globe in existence.
"Poyo." I shouted, just in case he hadn't seen it, "There's an opening, we need to go now!"
He saluted and I broke for it.
The slayer must have had some instinctive knowledge of what was happening. She was stumbling forward guided by my left arm. My right was busy with the Colt.
I had to throw her over the barrier. My shoulder screamed from when I had battered it against the doors. I threw Poyo too.
Kent must have been climbing into the ring to tear our heads off. She'd been caught under a pile of bodies. I stumbled over her as I crawled over the wall, grabbing the slayer who was already halfway up the staircase.
"STOP THEM!" Howled Bargas, but I was charging up the stairs, Poyo close behind.
We stumbled through a groaning mass of writhing bodies. I waved the Colt at anyone who looked ready to attack. We'd been lucky; the crowd had been too stunned to make a break for the exit. It would have been too crowded to if they'd panicked and ran for it.
I nodded once in appreciation to Amanda. She saluted me with a newly opened beer. I only hoped no one would blame her for our escape.
We were almost free, the door to the street just a few steps away.
It swung open; the vampire doorman peered around, "Hey, man, what's going on?"
I shot him in the knee.
We hit fresh air.
"I've got a car close by, come on!"
Poyo nodded. The slayer moaned. The vampire doorman cried.
We ran.------- BREAK -------
When I said getting chewed out sounds the same in every language I meant it.
But this was in English, and I understood every word.
"What the hell were you thinking?" Robin was pacing in front of me. The slayer was on the living room sofa, a blanket tossed over her. Poyo guarded her patiently.
"I couldn't let anyone buy her." I said, "Maybe I wouldn't have been able to save her. I wasn't willing to take that risk."
"Well now Bargas and Kent could be anywhere. We'll never catch them."
"She was more important." The young slayer groaned in wakefulness. "Bargas and Kent will turn up again. We may have never gotten another chance to save her."
"You don't know that." Robin said, "What if she's not even a slayer?"
I exploded, "What the fuck does that matter? She's an innocent."
He sucked in a breath, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean that."
He stepped around me, looked down at the sleeping face. A flicker of compassion crossed his face, "You did the right thing. We couldn't let her fall into anyone else's hands."
I didn't really like the way he phrased that.
Faith walked in from the kitchen carrying a steaming mug of coffee. I accepted it wordlessly.
"How's she doing?"
"She's stable; we believe they injected her with muscle relaxants, similar to what the slayers got for the cruciamentum."
Faith winced, she hadn't gone through the ritual, but Buffy had told her what happened. "Losing her strength must have been frightening."
I remembered how she'd forced herself up the stairs. "She's strong." It was a meaningless comment, but I felt like I had to say something.
The girl groaned again. Her eyes opened so slowly she might have been taking in the world one particle at a time.
Faith rushed over immediately, speaking in a voice so delicate I could hardly believe it was her, "Don't worry, you're safe here." She was on her knees, making sure to keep her head to around the same level as the girl's.
"Annabelle," the girl whispered, "Annabelle."
"Is that your name?" Robin asked.
The extra voice must have confused her. She started twisting to look for him.
Faith half turned, held an open palm towards us. She didn't look happy.
We got the message: shut up.
She turned back, "Is your name Annabelle?"
"My sister. They still have her."
"Who still has her?"
"Those men," She said, "I have to rescue her. I promised I'd keep her safe."
Faith put a hand on her, gently keeping her from sitting up. "You need to rest. Get some sleep. we'll talk in the morning."
The girl pushed the hand off, "I have to go."
Somehow she managed to get to her feet, stumbling forward. Her breathing was harsh, her motions were sharp, but her face was a mask of steely determination.
She got halfway across the room before falling to her knees.
Faith slowly touched her shoulder, careful to keep herself in the other girls line of site. The girl's shirt was drenched in sweat from the exertion of standing. She didn't react.
"She's asleep." Faith said.
The girl remained upright.
How determined was this girl?
Faith turned to us, "Let her get some rest. I'll stay here for the night."
Poyo gave me a nod. I guess I could count on him too.
Robin patted me on the back, "I need to talk to you. Come to my office."
We walked to his office in silence. I was nursing a headache, he was focusing on his swagger. Robin held the door open for me and closed it the second I walked in, circling around so he could sit on the edge of his desk. I was so tired I could barely smell the wildflowers.
Before I could say anything he spoke.
"I know what you're thinking. We can't go after the sister."
I should have known. I was beginning to wonder if my head ache was telling me I should reach over and strangle him.
It was just wishful thinking.
"If they've got other girls, we need to stop them."
"Whoever else they might have, they're not slayers. They would have brought them to the arena." He brushed an imaginary piece of lint of his shoulder, "We've got bigger concerns."
"Demons are trafficking humans and you think we've got bigger concerns? What, has a vampire taken over the White House with the aid of alien robots? We need to get her sister back"
"The trail's dead Xander, Bargas and Kent are long gone. We'll never find them."
I was trying not to shout, "I've got photos. I can give them to Andrew, Willow. They'll be able to do something."
"Do you think we don't have photos?" He was on his feet again, shouting, "I've got folders the length of my fucking arm about them. Give it up Xander, we can't do shit."
He was breathing hard, "Just give it a rest, alright. You saved the girl; job well done. Just leave it at that."
I could tell nothing I could possibly say would change his mind. "This isn't over Robin."
I needed to sleep, I felt like my skin was drooping off my skull.
"Oh, sorry, something completely unrelated." Robin said before I could reach the door.
I watched him rifle through his desk, "I need you to sign this." He pulled out a stack of papers, flipped through them till he reached some specific page.
I didn't really know what to say, "What the fuck Robin?"
He sighed, "Look, if you don't sign it now you'll have to sign it tomorrow. It's just a bunch of medical crap, Giles sent it this afternoon."
He kept the damn papers extended, refusing to break eye contact. The throbbing in my head refused to leave.
I grabbed a pen off his desk and scrawled my name on the dotted line.
I couldn't care less what the damn papers were about, I just wanted some sleep.------- Chapter End -------Story Notes:
First of all, everyone give a warm welcome to POYO!, who will be joining us for the duration of this journey. Poyo belongs to the comic Chew, created by John Layman and Rob Guillory.
I don't pretend to be a physician or license personal trainer. The majority of the fitness information contained this chapter comes from scientific studies freely published online. Don't take what I wrote as scripture, do your own research.
Hypertrophy refers to the growth of muscles due to resistance training. It separates broadly into two categories sarcomere hypertrophy, an increase in the size of the contractile portion of the muscles; and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, an increase in the non-contractile portion of the muscle.
Basically sarcomere hypertrophy lead to greater muscle density and strength, while sarcoplasic hypertrophy lead to an increase purely in size. You might see someone with huge muscles, but if they feel soft there's a good chance he's a hell of a lot weaker than he looks.
Also if you live in Cleveland, I apologize. I don't really believe it's the 'mistake on the lake', but you have to agree your city's in rough shape.Author's Notes:
We've also tackled two touchy subjects this chapter, hijab and human trafficking.
Hijab is a touchy subject, but it's one I feel is pretty important. The biggest issue is that wearing a hijab should be an entirely choice dependant thing. No one should be forced to dress in a certain way.
If I made any mistakes about Islam, please just shoot me a message of how I can correct it and I'll do my best. Most of what I know comes from hanging out with Muslim friends.
BtVS never had the most racially diverse cast. That's not a bad thing, but I grew up in a racially diverse city, so I always imagine characters as belonging to a wide variety of cultures.
Of course, I loved BtVS for the kick ass female characters and I really want to preserve that. Taking away what made the show so special to me would defeat the entire purpose of this fic.
When it comes to a lot of human trafficking stories, the female characters are often used as a tool to enrage male characters. They don't serve a purpose beyond that and it's always bothered me.
Taken, the film starring Liam Neeson, is a great example of that. The female characters are solely one dimensional constructions. In essence, the main characters daughter could be replaced with a stuffed animal he's really fond of and the plot would remain the same. You can't fault a teenage girl for panicking under a stressful situation, but a complete lack of any compelling female characters is pretty sad.
These girls get treated like checker pieces. Because they're not players they can't 'win', nor can they even quit the game.
I'm not going to try and be preachy.
I want to handle this differently than what seems to be the acceptable norm. Xander will not be running around with his white man powers solving problems.
Seriously, ethnocentricism sucks and human traffickers can go die, but disempowering female characters to tell a story is also pretty scummy.
That said, I'm writing this through the eye and words of Xander. My own opinions and beliefs aren't always mirrored by him. He'll say and do things I don't necessarily agree with. He's not perfect. He's nowhere close.
In any case, I recommend giving these a read. They're not scripture, but I've definitely kept them in mind while writing. If I listed all the articles I read, this section would probably be longer than the actual chapter.
Drop a review if you'd like, I always welcome criticism of any kind.