parts 37 to 39
Kendra was feeling better about the exercise programs that she was putting together for the new school. Programs that encouraged exercise and good health, encouraged a variety of ways to be active, to improve their bodies in many ways, some of them things that the children would not even think of as exercise or work but as play. In addition to the lake with its long pier, an outdoor swimming pool was being added, and there were the basketball courts and jogging paths. Dorothy and Mrs. Beaumond had put a radio into one of the large, almost empty rooms, and once the children found the radio, that room was often the site of dancing, or things that the children called dancing.
She felt a tickle at the edge of her mind, and an image of the main steps nearest the driveway. “I suppose that is Charles again… I wonder what it is this time? More questions? Perhaps a new student?”
With a shrug, Kendra headed for the steps. She would find out why Charles called her soon enough, and if it was out of pure boredom, well… He could probably use a bit more exercise himself. But she would give him the benefit of doubt, and assume that he had a purpose.
On the steps, Charles was standing with a tall Indian man, complete with turban and loose sleeved jacket, accompanied by an Indian woman that she assumed was his wife, clad in a dark green sari with hints of gold jewelry peeking from under her shawl, and six children ranging from perhaps nine years of age down to a child that looked to be barely walking. None of them looked completely comfortable.
“Charles?” Kendra didn’t know where to begin with her questions. The family looked rather uncertain and not comfortable, Charles looked a bit uncomfortable, and the children looked nervous.
“It appears that Mister Shastri and several of his children are mutants, and I have offered them a place at the school. However, we have encountered a bit of…” Charles paused. “His English is rather weak, my Arabic is every bit as bad, and attempting to speak into his mind causes him considerable dismay. We have managed to communicate that I am offering his family a place here, that they will be welcome and as safe as we can be, and he has accepted, mostly for his children’s sake. I was hoping that you might have a language that permits better communication?”
“We shall soon see,” Kendra sighed. She was much better with written words than spoken…
A bit of trial and error later and she was informed that she had a terribly strange accent to her Ôxômiya. Strange accent or not – and Kendra found his accent quite different from what she was used to, they managed to communicate at least as well as Tarun Shastri and Charles Xavier had managed.
He had already known that the gods had given him a strange ability, though he was unsure if it was a gift, a curse, or perhaps a test. He had suspected that his eldest son shared his ability, though he had been unsure before meeting with Charles. The poor reactions of his neighbors and kin back in India had caused him to gather his family and flee to America – a land where they had difficulty communicating, he had difficulty finding work, and where everything was different.
She managed to explain that he was not alone in having an unexpected ability, that Charles sought to make a place where those so gifted could learn to control their ability rather than having their ability control them. A place to learn to live without fearing your neighbors, or your neighbors fearing you. Then Kendra asked him, as a scholar and a father, if he would please help build this into a place that would offer a better tomorrow for the world, for his children.
He had asked her what the gods had given her that she felt part of such a place.
Kendra had sighed, and said that the gods had given her a destiny fighting the monsters that preyed upon mortals, to fight and defend until her last breath. That she was Kendra, the Chosen Slayer.
He had winced, and offered his support in any way that was within his abilities. He’d also asked if she would be teaching any of the children how to fight.
She had given a polite smile, and suggested that a place to start might be to help with the languages of the school, and perhaps, if it was within the abilities of his family, to be able to teach meditation. After all, she had no way to know how long she might be able to teach such things, or anything. Though if she was here long enough, and the children old enough and responsible enough, she would try to teach them something of fighting.
He had been quick to agree, explaining that meditation had helped him gain control over his own ability, and stopped things from lighting themselves on fire when he became angry or fearful. While he didn’t yet know what manner of abilities the gods may have given others in this place, he was quick to understand how meditating to master one’s mind and emotions could help. He hadn’t asked why she would look for another teacher if she had the skill herself – all he needed to know about that was that she was the Chosen Slayer. The traditions of his people did make mention of Chosen Slayers.
Turning to the now-confused Charles, she summarized. “Tarun Shastri was aware of his ability, and has control over it. He suspects that his eldest shares the ability, and will need to learn control. They are willing to help teach languages and meditation, once he and his wife can speak to the other students. If the students here speak multiple languages, it can only be a benefit. And he is familiar with the duties and dangers of being a Slayer.”
Mister Shastri spoke with soft words, “Your aspiring school-master seems most displeased with your destiny, Slayer Kendra. Why does he argue against the will of the gods? Or is it that he suggests that you should argue with your destiny?”
Kendra was still trying to sort out if it was the danger or what he called her ‘unsettling insistence that you will die an early death’ that bothered him the most. “Until recently, Charles was peacefully unaware of the demons.”
He had nodded, understanding the uncertainty and worry of discovering that the world was stranger, more dangerous than you had believed only yesterday. “Such a discovery would be very much like discovering that your anger could set things on fire. Unsettling, and unwelcome, and inspiring fear and confusion… the desperate hope that you are mistaken, that it was no more than a bad dream. But some dreams do not end when you awaken.”
Kendra nodded, thinking that his words made a great deal of sense, though she could not remember a time when she hadn’t known about the monsters and demons that hunted, about how some people were destined to fight them. She had been raised with the expectation that one day, she would be Called as Slayer. In her case, it hadn’t been the unsettling discovery that there were monsters, but that there was another Slayer, a Slayer who had something close to a normal life as well as her destiny that had been unsettling. “It is not easy to learn that there is more to the world than you knew. His dream, this school…it will not be easy. But I believe it is a worthy goal.”
Smiling at Charles, Kendra changed to speaking English, “I think they will be a wonderful addition to the school.”
End part 37.
The Shastri family had been settled into rooms by lunch time, though there was a bit of confusion about the food. Most of it was very different from what they were used to, and there were several questions about the meats in some dishes and mentions of how their religion forbade certain foods. Kendra felt that the questions strained her conversational abilities – she felt much more confident discussing dangers, attack strategies and prophecies of doom instead of meal recipes and religious restrictions.
Unable to completely smother her giggles, Mrs. Parvati Shastri had suggested that lessons about the various beliefs and traditions of different nations and cultures might be advisable for a school that taught peaceful coexistence. Ignorance of other ways could only weaken the cooperation between people and nations.
When Kendra translated that suggestion, without the giggled comment about sampling foreign foods and seeing just how strange the things they’d be able to manage to convince people to taste might be, Charles had thought it was a splendid idea.
She also found herself hoping that she’d be able to sit in on at least the occasional lesson in cultural appreciation, languages, and strange foods. It was frustrating to be able to speak of demons, of battle tactics and painful wounds, and not explain what was for lunch. There was also the fact that she thought it might be nice to learn about things that didn’t involve danger, violence, or potential doom.
Kendra wasn’t certain whose idea it had been, but objects had sprouted papers, with the name of the object listed in multiple languages. Things like wall, table, floor, desk, chair, plate, cup, window, door and stairs. More durable signs had appeared outside, labeling grass, tree, driveway, gardens, car, and garage. For the labels in the house, the first words, in English, German and French, had been typed. Other languages had been added with pencil or ink in various handwritings – someone had added Arabic in blue ink, Oxomiya and Sanskrit had been added in black ink, some Gaelic words had been added in pencil, and a different hand had been adding Russian words in pencil. For herself, Kendra had been adding in the Latin for some of the words, also in pencil.
Charles had also found a few more students, though these were all Americans, with English as their native and in most cases only language. There was a boy a year older than Jean, called Scott Summers, who had recently lost his family to a plane crash, and another boy who only answered to Ace, who had been at the same orphanage as Scott. While neither of them had shown any unusual abilities, Charles had brought them. There was a girl with pale green hair that was only a few years younger than Jean and Misty, able to make plants grow by talking to them. That girl, answering to Fern, seemed to prefer plants to people. Another teenage boy, perhaps the same age as Buffy and her friends, answering to Dash, was capable of running almost as fast as the Professor’s car.
Fern and Sambar Shastri joined the morning meditation sessions. If Sambar could start fires, teaching him to help control his temper early could be a wise safety precaution – and it wouldn’t hurt even if he didn’t share his father’s ability. For Fern, Kendra hoped that meditation would help the girl find a measure of peace and confidence. It was also one of the few ideas that Kendra had that didn’t seem threatening.
Kendra thought that the place was looking more and more like a school. And with each additional child brought in, another little detail would become apparent. Another thing to consider about having something between a boarding school and an embassy. The different ages would require different lesson plans. Someone would need to explain puberty and all the attendant awkwardness and changes to the children. Additional smaller kitchens had been built, and immediately after than had been additional rules about where people were allowed to have food and what should be done with the dishes afterwards – as a guide, it wasn’t ‘stuff them under the furniture and go away.’
This and a few more incidents along similar lines, combined with the sheer amount of laundry created by so many teenagers, prompted Charles to hire a full time cook and two housekeepers. One of the housekeepers was a woman with three children, who gave the impression that her husband had perished. Kendra noticed the faint scent of hair dye on all four of them, and the odd fact that her little girls had purple eyelashes.
Each night, Kendra went out hunting for the vampires and demons that stalked the area. She watched for clues that they might be up to some sort of larger plot – more than just several predators gathering together to make hunting easier. Perhaps more of those vampires plotting at their disturbing magical ritual, the one intended to bring back the Lord of the Dead, whoever that might be. Or rituals involving sea salt, Fyarl horns, and demon scales.
She hadn’t uncovered any signs of strange rituals from the demons, but she did find a small tea shop, with a little card on a door offering ‘palms read and fortunes told’. The tea shop had the comforting feeling of protective wards, though they were felt more like a well-worn blanket than armor. She’d found herself stopping there for a cup of nice tea and a bite to eat three times already.
She hadn’t seen any signs of that sorcerer again, the one who’d called himself Doctor Strange.
For the Slayer side of things, it was frustrating. She knew that there had to be groups plotting, because there were always demons and vampires plotting, somewhere. But she didn’t know where else to look, didn’t know if she was patrolling the best areas, didn’t know the right people to ask questions. She didn’t have a Watcher to know what questions needed asked and the best people to answer them. A Watcher to be part of the right circles to know when things were moving, and when those movements spelled – sometimes literally – trouble.
As a teacher… As a teacher things were moving along. It was something that she’d never expected to do, but it was surprisingly enjoyable. Adding Sambar to the meditation was also helping her language skills. The way the children listened to her, it was… It was a whole different sort of responsibility than Slaying demons, and just as intimidating if she let herself think about it.
Kendra couldn’t help wondering what would change things from this fragile balance, and which way things would tip. Would things improve? Or would there be some form of terrible disaster? And would the next ugly problem come from demons and vampires, or from human fear and prejudice?
End part 38.
Kendra had been right when she suspected that there were monsters plotting in the area. Some had little plots, schemes that might make hunting easier, plans to battle their rivals. Ploys to lure their prey to them instead of needing to chase their prey down through the city.
One very youthful looking vampire had seen what he considered the face of danger, and had decided to alter his plans. Playing the lost child had been a simple way to get temporary adult protectors, who would interfere with other adults and deflect suspicion until he lost his patience and ate them. The dark woman had not been fooled by his young face – she knew him for a hunter, a predator. But she was only one hunter – if he was careful in his ways, she might not track him down. He wouldn’t kill his adults just for being adults who thought they knew more. He would keep them as shields against other adults, and as a base. He could hunt other predators… the ones that preyed on children, the ones that sought struggling young families. Ones like the one that had killed him, so many years ago. If he hunted other predators, then the Dark Woman would not look too hard for him. They wouldn’t taste quite as sweet, but efforts to find their killer would be token at best. A lone hunter would need to prioritize, and he was old enough and clever enough to know that he was safer if he was a low priority target.
Other vampires huddled in a large house, lit by candles and filled with old books. Thirty years ago, the man who’d lived here had made a bargain with one of their number – a safe haven in return for eternal youth. Granted, becoming a vampire had a few downsides, but for Simon Lofton, it was worth it. Those thirty years had permitted him to make great strides in his magic, going from the ability to light candles and move books to the power to summon and bind minor imps. As a mortal man, he’d been too frightened of the consequences to sacrifice more than animals. Becoming a vampire had removed that fear, even as it made the magic more challenging. His sire had encouraged his magic, though he’d called it ‘arcane dabbling’, and had occasionally given him new materials. Soon, they would have everything that they needed to bring back the Great Lord of the Dead, and then… then the streets would run red with blood, and the humans would cower before them!
In a small pawn shop along a narrow street, the owner of the store walked through the aisles, inspecting his inventory. There were the usual records and instruments, some home appliances, and china towards the front. Further in the shop, he had a display with a gleaming silver motorcycle, and another that was a patchwork of dull browns and olive green, with helmets and sturdy jackets near the motorcycles. Across from them were a row of ordinary bicycles. Along the back wall, he had a small assortment of firearms, each one connected to the wall by a sturdy cable. There were also a few less ordinary weapons – a katana that may have been brought from Japan, what was supposed to be a Confederate Cavalry officer’s saber, and a broad, short blade marked with strange letters on the blade. Beneath them sat a row of bowie knives, a collection of Swiss army knives with more things folded away than any person needed, and a machete. He had no idea that any of them could be more than a sharpened bit of metal, worth a bit of money to the right person.
Across the city, Fyarl demons that had just sprouted the horns of adulthood schemed to prove themselves as worthy males. To succeed in some feat so brave, so impressive that they would win the interest and company of the Fyarl females. To prove themselves strong and manly and get the girls. Had they understood the similarity, they might have been amused that so many human men sought the same thing. Some sought to prove themselves in combat with the nastiest, most dangerous foe they could find. One or two had other schemes, things less likely to be fatal if they didn’t go just perfect…
In the ocean waters, the Maerrocholith began to migrate northwards, seeking colder waters. In cold waters, they would find challenges and different prey – not the plentiful fish that were good for nurturing their young, but challenging, screaming prey. Humans and demons that they could hunt, pulling them into the cold waters before feasting. Each feast of drowning prey a sacrifice to the Old Ones of the Deep. The swarms passed on the glorious stories of the ancient times, and the origins of their people. Their ancestors had been the favored children of the Old Ones of the Deep, and while the Old Ones of the Deep did not swim among them now, but slumbered in their ancient ruins, one day they would awaken from the Darkest Slumber. Once more would the hosts of the water swarm to the orders of Dagan, against the unholy forces of Kyuthuul and Nyarthoolp. Better still, the humans near the northern waters did not remember how to avoid them…
A human man called Fury leaned against a desk, surrounded by papers and reports. Gabe Jones had contacted him, talking about a dark woman with an accent, saving him from more of those awful people, like the ones from the jungle. Except that it hadn’t been in a jungle, and the ones that had attacked – without the careful use of the jungle and stealth of their foes back then – had all the subtlety and skill of a rabid dog. They weren’t just in the jungle, and they weren’t just ugly memories. Perhaps someone needed to make a plan to defend against them as well? A strategic defense initiative… One that couldn’t use the word ‘vampire’ if it was to be taken seriously.
A man who had once made a living as a surgeon had his eyes closed as he practiced his own meditation. Floating in the air above his garden, Stephen Strange sought to pick apart the tapestry of fate. Something had changed recently – twisting fate from the pattern that it had been and changing it to something else. He didn’t know what, or how, or why… and he couldn’t tell if this new fate would be better or worse than the path set before. But he would be remiss in his duties if he didn’t try to learn what had caused the change. After all, once he knew ‘what’, then sorting out ‘why’ should be easy.
In England, a young man named Quentin packed a suitcase. One of the few friends that he’d ever known had sent him a letter, writing about a young woman with extraordinary strength. One who had spoken of being Chosen, and knew how to use a sword. He was going to go investigate the matter of this woman… and maybe it would give him a bit of space from his father. If he didn’t, then things would get ugly – Wallace Travers was the most stubborn, hide-bound arrogant man that he’d ever met. While Quentin understood the importance of tradition – how could any Watcher not? – he hoped that he never became a Watcher like his father. A father who had been muttering about having ways of teaching ‘impudent boys’ to respect their elders…
End part 39.