Sunday, September 02, 2012

By popular demand, I'm back, I'm bad, you're black, I'm mad.

Alright- this one takes a bit of a run-up.
See, some of my readership are not Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans. Those who are fans have not read Season 8 (it's in comic book form) and, thus, have not been following Season 9 (currently in print).

So lemme break it down:

At the end of Season 7, Buffy and Willow broke all the rules, and using some serious mojo, 'activated', if you will, every young woman on Earth that had the potential to be a Slayer, creating an army of super-girls, some two thousand, total.
I won't go into the geopolitical ramifications that tumbled through Season 8, so we'll skip right to the end, when, in order to save the world, Buffy severs Earth from magic, essentially.
Everything fell apart.
Buffy's still Slayer Prime, but she's shunned by most of the... supernatural-aware; and a twenty-something waitress at a coffee shop-bookstore in San Francisco. There are still critters of all sorts and a couple grand Slayers, but no formal organization.

Right. Got all that?
Good- 'cause I'm moving on.

This is the story of Grace, a Slayer trying to find her way in the world post-all the crap above.
It's also an expanded look at a world that, to date, has focused on one little thing- the Slayer. It's a big world, and whether one or two thousand, there's not enough Slayer to go around.
Yes, the character Michael is drawn from me, but they say write what you know- I don't know how to be an eighteen year-old girl, so I had to create a bad-ass version of me to cope. 

So, without further ado, I give you Grace:

  Grace was in trouble.
Her casual hunt had led her to not one, but five vampires. She had a stake, and she had the Power, and had gotten some of the training before everything had fallen apart, but she was far out of her league.
She desperately sought some avenue of escape, some out, but knew that if she turned to run, the vampires you be on her like a pack of wild dogs.

Apparently having run out of taunts, the vamp to her left gathered himself, muscles bunching for the lunge that would lead to her death when a sharp bark of sound froze the tableau.  The sound was like a gunshot, but quieter and less crisp.
Immediately following the sound, the tensing vampire crumbled to dust, destroyed. Another bark and the next vampire in the semicircle threatening Grace reeled, crying out in pain. For all her shock, Grace rallied instantly to take advantage of the distraction. Flowing to her right, she lashed out with a low side-kick that left a vamp’s knee bending nearly 90degrees in the wrong direction.  The sharp noise came a third time, followed by a second cloud of dust as she lunged to the left with stake extended, like a fencer with foil, dusting her first vamp of what had abruptly turned from an imminent slaughter to an actual fight. Before she could recover from her lunge the final standing vampire threw a brutal punch that laid her out, but rather than following up the strike, the vamp turned and sprinted away.
Grace rolled to her feet as the final vampire staggered to his own. A powerful kick to the chin straightened and rocked him back, leaving him open for a finishing thrust of the stake.
The ensuing quiet lasted only a moment.

  “’Slayers’”, a man’s voice grunted. “Friggin’ amateurs.”
 Grace turned to see a man standing ten meters or so away.  He appeared human, a bit broad-shouldered and bulky in the torso, but human. His loose-fitting trousers of an indeterminate color were tucked into tucked into combat boots of some flavor or another. What appeared to be a lightweight drover’s jacket enshrouded the man’s torso and arms, with a floppy-brimmed hat capping off the lovely spring ensemble.
Holstering something to his right thigh, the stranger turned and walked away.

Grace gaped for a moment before setting off after her critic –and she was chagrined to admit, savior.
 “Hey, wait up,” she called as she jogged to catch up to him. “What do you mean, ‘Amateur’? I got two of them!”
The man stopped and spun so quickly, it was all Grace could do not to bowl him over.

“What you ‘got’, toots, was baited and ambushed, and you blew my gods-damned stalk doing it!”   
 Having said, the stranger whirled and was stalking away again.
Grace tried to walk with him, but to her annoyance found herself almost skipping to keep up. He couldn’t have been but a couple of inches taller than she, but damn, this guy could march!
 “My name’s Grace,” she sought to engage him.

“Like I could possibly give a shit,” came the growled response.

“Look- I’m sorry I ruined your ‘stalk’, I really am. Thank you for helping me.”

Again the man stopped, instantly statue-still, this time not turning, but tipping is head back and drawing a deep breath then slowly releasing it through his nose. He turned at a normal speed to face Grace.
“It’s cool. I just... hate wasted effort. Look, where’s your gang? Don’t you girls run in packs or something?”
“I guess we do. Did. Something really bad happened, and it all sort of fell apart, so I came home.”
“’Really bad’. Might as well understate it- there’s no way to exaggerate it.” The man removed his floppy-brimmed hat, sounding tired beyond mortal reckoning now. “It hurt some people I’m close to. Part of my mood right now.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Not your fault, kid.”

Without the hat shadowing it, Grace got her first good look at the stranger’s face: a goatee with a few silver hairs making their way through the coarse brown, and a couple days’ stubble on the cheeks and jaw. Rectangular-lensed glasses and a high forehead that rose to meet nearly-military-short brown hair. Grace blinked, realizing she was seeing… furniture. The man’s face was incredibly… average. She was only remembering things on his face, not really the features themselves. His was a face you’d never give a second glance in a crowd. Cute enough, she supposed, but strangely normal for a man who hunted his species’ predators. Until she got a good look in his eyes. She fought not to show any reaction, even while she wondered what that reaction might be.

“H-how… How old are you?” she stammered, a little uncomfortable for the first time.
A snort of laughter that held no humor answered her. “Probably old enough to be your father, sweetheart. But it’s not the years. It’s the miles.”

“Run that by me again?”

“I spent the first ten years of my adult life in the military before I got involved in,” he paused to wave his hands in a small, vague, motion, “all this. I’ve seen people commit atrocious evil on epic scale. They just don’t eat you afterwards.” He paused thoughtfully. “Well, not often.”
Grace nodded thoughtfully. Forget eyes you could drown in- this guy’s eyes had things swimming under the surface that could pull down ships.
“Aw, don’t look at me like that- I’m not all Hannibal Lector serial-psycho-type,” another pause, this time with a smirk twisting his lips. “Well, not often.”

Grace snorted a laugh of her own, and the man offered his hand.
“Grace, you said? I’m Michael.”
Grace shook his hand, pleasantly surprised that his grip was neither the vice-like grasp of a man playing dominance games, nor the limp grip of a man who thinks women too delicate to be treated truly equally. Just a firm, sincere handshake.
“You want a ride home from the creepy old man? My truck’s just down the road,” Michael jerked his thumb in the direction he’d been walking.
Grace considered for a moment before smiling, “Only if you promise to wear your Hannibal muzzle.”
Michael turned with a grin and led the way.

The “truck” turned out to be an old-style SUV, the kind before they turned into 4WD minivans.  Watching Michael strip off his gear was like watching a military sci-fi movie in reverse.
Under the lightweight jacket was a sheathe of leather and carbon-fiber- armor derived from motorcycle racing gear, he explained. “The stuff can take a motorcycle wreck at 200mph. It’s essentially knife, claw and bite proof. It’s modded a bit to increase mobility and make it proof against most caliber of handgun.”
Catching her look, he shrugged, “Better safe…”

Michael unbuckled the upper armor from the pistol belt it supported and Grace got her first look at the source of the noise during the fight. The sci-fi armory expanded.

“From a purely mechanical standpoint, it’s Frankenstein’s paintball gun. It uses compressed gas to drive specially-made stakes at a few hundred feet per second. This pistol version is only good to about twenty meters, then it loses penetrating power. Seven round magazine, and then the stakes and the gas cartridge have to be reloaded,” Michael explained and handed the weapon over to Grace.
The first thing she noticed was the light weight.
“Because it’s not actually a gun, as such, it’s constructed from much lighter materials- aluminum and plastic. Makes it a lot easier to lug around.”

Michael’s lowest-tech piece of equipment threw Grace the most, though- perhaps because of its radical departure from something she thought familiar.
His stakes… weren’t.
Instead of the –let’s face it- pointy sticks she used and had been trained with, these were essentially knives.  The blades were six inches long or so and constructed from some dense, dark wood.  They were sharpened, but not knife-sharp; more like the edges had been honed down to lower their profile and decrease resistance as much as possible.
“These… why knives?”
“I’m not as strong as you girls- I can’t slam a fence post through a human ribcage like you do, so I use something that can slip between ribs instead.”
“They’re freakin’ genius! Why has nobody thought of this before?!”

Michael gave her a long, flat look before answering slowly, “Luv, that technique has been in my family for over a thousand years, and they learned it from someone else.”
Grace blinked. “…oh. ‘Kay.”
“You didn’t think the Slayer was the only one in this fight through the ages, did you?”

Grace pondered a moment before answering, “I never really gave it any thought. I mean, before… before what happened… I was taught about the history of the Slayer line and stuff, but other than an aside about some government guys, nobody mentioned any other vampire fighters.”
Michael snorted, muttering, “Typical,” before driving in contemplative silence for a few minutes. Grace left him to his thoughts for as long as her curiosity would let her. “So you don’t know of any other girls in the area? Slayers?”

Michael looked at her from the corner of his eye for a long moment before responding.
“One other. I buried her a few weeks ago.”
Grace’s jaw sagged in mortification.
“I found her after… after what just about happened to you tonight. ‘S why I asked about your squad. You’re not ready to be flying solo- not if you want to live longer than her.”

“How…” Grace swallowed and tried again, “How do you do it then? You said you weren’t as strong as a Slayer- how do you fight them on your own?”

Michael glanced at her with a hint of a smile. “First, I stalk them- track them. I don’t fight unless I absolutely have to,” he broke off, pulling alongside a curb. “Here’s your stop, kid.”
Startled, Grace looked around to find they’d arrived at her sister’s house.

Michael was tapping something into his cell phone. “What’s your number, luv?”
“What?! Why?”
Michael sighed and rolled his eyes, “So I can call you in the middle of the night and breathe heavily into the phone, of course. I want to give you some information. You’ve already showed me where you live- it’s a little late for sensible caution, toots.”
Grace blushed and told him. A moment later she received a text message.

“That’s the address of a place where you can learn- learn to fly solo, learn if you even want to. Learn some history, maybe some macrame, whatever. The last bit is an emergency number. Call it, and you’ll get whatever help is available. Best I can do for you tonight.”

Grace suddenly felt very tired, and very afraid. The strangeness of meeting Michael had kept the terror of her encounter at bay until now. She let out a shuddering breath and thanked him so softly she wondered if he even heard her.
His face a softened a little, though, and he quietly replied, “You’re welcome.” Louder, “Now get out of my car before people think I’m a pedo.”
With a laugh that eased her fear, Grace popped the door, but stopped with one foot on the ground. “What’s the other reason?”
Looking perplexed, Michael asked, “Beg pardon?”
“When I asked how you fight them alone, you said the first was that you didn’t actually fight them. What the second?”
“Ah!” A slow grin spread across Michael’s face. “The other is: what makes you think I’m alone?”


Dbelle (aka: the Chaos Wrangler) said...

I am intrigued!

Jeff said...'re back.