Year of the Spectre - Episode II:
He had stared down the eyes of hellbent demons with world domination on the brain. He had touched the hand of long-deceased heroes and heralds of the almighty Divine. He had been to the throes of agony via combat and captivity and through it all stared death in the face. He had embraced the Grim Reaper and resigned himself to the hereafter until The Almighty intervened. He knew what it meant to be a god-fearing individual for he had been closer to the creator than most mortals would ever come until death, and more than once. Everybody was made of a different mettle. This is why despite the adventures this Cajun had experienced he still had great weaknesses which were contrary to his many strengths. GAVAL could face down a walking corpse with ten times his strength and not budge until it had met defeat, but he still feared spiders. He still had nightmares of tidal waves and tornados that left him in a night's cold sweat. He still had dreadful fears of dying old and alone. Perhaps it was a feeling of helplessness that caused him such nightmares.
In CWAL HQ that late Spring day, none of these fears meant anything compared to what he was about to face. He was unprepared and caught off guard looking at his true biggest fear standing in the door, arms folded and eyes sparkling with contempt. He'd have given anything to trade his situation with that of a Slayer in battle with an entire pack of Werewolves or a twenty foot vampire elephant....or Plague-Sever; but there was no way out. Like it or not he now had to face up to a bad situation he alone had created: Retribution from a woman scorned.
"Something you want to tell me....`
Rachel Hollis had endured her fill. She had waited patiently when he gave her promises and excuses. She had stayed out of his business when he didn't show up for his final exams at the end of the Spring semester. It seemed like he was throwing his life away, but she had trusted him that he knew what he was doing...at first. But time led to increased breeches of trust. Calls turned to emails. Emails turned to silence. He was never around during the night. Slept during the day. That much a few CWALers had let spill. And now she had caught him sitting with a group of ASG and CWAL operatives who were calling him a name he swore he'd never take again. The pieces added up. She just wanted to hear it from him. She just wanted to know that he had a good reason for throwing his life away and seemingly her with it.
GAVAL dropped his head, hiding his eyes from her piercing stare behind the brim of his fedora hat. He suddenly felt very silly in that hat and took it off. He also felt very hot in the leather waistcoat he was wearing and slid out of it as she just continued to stare and wait. Everything he had done since his ill-begotten pact with Nighteye had led to failure. He only had one more idea to try in capturing Plague-Sever and it was based on Lothos ideas. The problem now was that his soulmate knew something was up. This put them both in a lot of danger. He was going to try to tell her everything after they killed the Spectre but it was too wily and cunning. It was taking too long. Months had passed since its appearance in October. Now he was found out. If he wanted her in his life the truth would have to be known...but how much of the truth?
"You wanna sit down?"
"Alright, but ah feel like my knees are gonna buckle so Ah'm gonna sit."
She remained standing with a look that hurt him, but he knew he deserved it.
"Ah'm not gonna argue that anything ah've done to make you angry was right. I just didn't know how to tell you so I figured Ah'd wait until it was over."
She stared. The look didn't change an iota.
"It's just that alot's going on and I didn't wanna drag you back with me when there was a chance it could have been over in a day or two...but a day or two turned into a week or two..."
She stared. Perhaps even a little harder. The look was beginning to become one of disbelief.
"It's something big, Rachel. Something very personal that I didn't think would do you any good to know about."
She lost it there. "WHAT THE FUCK AFTER ALL WE'VE BEEN THROUGH COULD POSSIBLY BE THAT BIG AND PERSONAL?!" He wasn't saying anywhere near what she needed to hear. There was too much worry and rage and passion to hold back. It was a miracle someone as emotional as Rachel could have lasted as long as she did without bursting into an inferno in Levis Jeans. "I'VE BEEN TO TWO OTHER DIMENSIONS, HELD CAPTIVE BY MINIONS OF THE BURNING HELLS, AND TREATED THE WOUNDS OF EXTRA-TERRESTRIALS BECAUSE OF MY RELATIONSHIP WITH YOU! What could possibly strike me as hard to swallow after all that? HUH?!
"But we had normalcy and you seemed to love it so much. It was goin' so smooth for a while there."
"And something dragged you back. Fine. I've always imagined that might happen and that you'd tell me about it."
"But the conditions this time..."
"What? WHAT?! What's so horrible that you couldn't share it with someone who's shared everything on every most intimate level with you? We
... keep...secrets. What did I make you promise me, Ted? What was the one thing I asked you never to do?!"
"To lie to me. I've been lied to all my life by one form of friend or another and I thought you were the one who would be different!" Tears of rage gave in to gravity.. CWAL HQ was silent aside from her painful wounded words echoing throughout the old Starbucks. They knew better than to interfere. This had to be hashed out.
"Rachel, I didn't lie, ah just didn't give you all the facts."
Her voice had sunk down to a shuddering whisper. "Do you really think that wounds me any less than a straight out lie after all we've been through? Then you disappear and never stop by or even tell me where you're going or when I'll see you again." She forced her voice back up to above a whisper. "You can't go back, Ted. You can't go back to popping in and out of my life after we've practically lived together. Is it something I did?! What did I do to chase you away? What did I do to lose your trust?!"
GAVAL couldn't stand to see her so hurt. She had it all wrong. It wasn't her at all that was the problem. As those words left her he got up and put his hands out to try to stay her words, then backed up for fear that she would strike him, then brought his finger to his lips to try to calm her, but she had to say her peace.
"This just keeps happening to me. Everyone I love, they pull me close, reign me in, wait till I'm most vulnerable, then they just disappear and lie about one thing or another until I call them on it and move on alone and broken. Is that what you want,
Is that what your promises are worth?! Were you just waiting for things to get perfect so you could just disappear and leave me to good old solitude?! Or did you think I'd just take this kind quietly and wait until you showed up again like nothing happened?!
He had to break in. "You know me, Rachel. Look into these eyes. You KNOW that's not me. I'm the same person I've always been and that you've always thought ah was, but something has happened that I...that we all had to see about. Ah just wanted to spare you the pain and the humiliation I'm having to endure."
"Do you think it's not humiliating for me to make excuses to my parents and roommate for you when you don't show up to 50
anniversary parties? Birthday gatherings? My niece's christening?!"
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry...."
"Ted, whatever it is, if you care at all about what we've worked so hard to build together, you HAVE to commit to me. You HAVE to share it with me, because after everything you've given you just can't go back to the way things were at first. There's no going back. Just tell me...remember when you were so hurt during the war? Remember when all those Slayers were killed and you felt responsible for Sephroth's murders? You told me you could never get through it without me. So why try to get through whatever this is without me now when we're so much stronger together?"
"Ah'm sorry...I just wanted to protect you...."
"Stop protecting me, goddamit!" She slammed her fists on the table so hard the drinks flew up and off, scattering on the floor. "Stop protecting me...we're partners in this life...I thought we were life partners..."
"Oh God, Rachel, we are..." He approached her and she drew her arms away, bending down to pick up the bottle of Mountain Dew and coffee cups.
"No, Mr. Benoit. You don't treat partners like you've treated me these past weeks. You can't just assume I'd be so understanding as to let you disappear and go back to putting your life at risk without sharing it with me. You don't go back like that. It's the biggest insult." She wiped her cheek with a used napkin and placed the saucers and mugs back onto the table and slumped down into a booth seat drained from her outburst.
"I'll tell you everything Rachel. Ah'll make this right. Ah made de wrong decision and I'm so sorry for dat, jus' don't give up on me. I need you." He knew his strength came from her and that he could only get through this crisis with her help. He knew she was too much a part of him now to not include her.
"I have half a mind to get even madder at you for using me, but you know what, Ted? I use you too. I use you for support. I use you for love. I use you for strength. I use you to make me feel whole and special. We use each other, but in a completely mutual and loving and natural way. You can't treat me like some kind of fragile thing that needs to be sheltered. Not this girlfriend. I've seen more than most. I'm stronger than most because of it. We're partners. I need to be treated as such."
"And you will, I promise. God, I'm sorry....Ah'll never lie to you again and I'll let you know what's goin' on."
"I'm sorry if I come across as demanding but if we're gonna stay serious it's not your life anymore, and it's not my life anymore. It's
life, Ted. I'm not asking any more than the basics from you."
He kneeled down beside her and put his forehead on her lap. The fear was subsiding. It felt just like the fear that rendered him helpless with Plague-Sever that night in the alley. He knew she made him so much stronger. He knew dealing with what Nighteye had done to him was only possible if he went through it with her, but how could he tell her? How could he tell her he had partnered with someone responsible for the nightmares she had to endure months prior? How could he tell her he made a pact with someone who he allowed to corrupt him and who might kill him within nine months time?
She reached down to the sides of his cheeks and picked his head up. With a completely straight face she forced frustration aside and gently said, "I can't be in your life if you believe you have to lie to me to keep me safe. Decide now. I'm giving you an out if that's how it has to be."
"I don't need an out, Rachel. I'll fess up."
"Then what's going on? I might even be able to help."
"It's the Spectre. The one dat attacked me and the guys at Halloween."
"The one that dropped off the face of the Earth never to return?"
"Yeah. It returned."
"The one that changed you?"
"Yeah. The one that took me and Cabbott's Rush."
"Here? In Irvine? I thought it was in New Orleans?!"
"Ah'm afraid it's following me. Out ta get me. To finish what it started."
"And you want to finish it off."
"With CWAL that shouldn't be a problem. Let them handle it for you."
"Rach, we tried already. It almost killed us all."
"Four nights ago...but that's not all. That's not what brought me over."
"Two or three weeks ago the ASG tried to take it out. They almost had it cornered with a bunch of Vamps, but it came out and slaughtered them. Killed half the hunting party. Killed Bob's girlfriend."
"Nabob..." she whispered. She had hardly met the guy but it was a difficult name to forget.
"And I couldn't help but feel that it was in Irvine because of me so ah had to get after it."
"So you pulled a bunch of CWALers together to catch it."
"To slay it. It's an abomination. It's anti-life. It's true evil in the form of the perfect predator and it's gotta be purged." He looked across at his hat and suddenly had the urge to put it back on. Sudden surges of anger shot through him as he thought of the Spectre and all the havoc it had wreaked throughout his life in the last nine months.
"Is that everything?"
He looked up at her from the hat, then down at the hat again. It was the crucial moment. He either had to tell her about Nighteye now or keep it a secret to his dying day. She'd never forgive him for holding back now, but the shame was great. He didn't know which was worse; the reactions she or the ASG would have to his dealings with Nighteye or fessing up later, even if he did survive mortal combat with the Sith Lord.
"GAVAL, is that everything? It's not that bad, really. I can't believe you didn't tell me earlier. There must be more..."
A tiny voice screamed out from deep inside. A nasty little voice that had been growing inside him for weeks now was beckoning him towards all the pent up anger he had for Nighteye and the Spectre. It told him she'd never understand what he did. It told him she would walk out the minute she found out he had dealt with Nighteye. It told him she couldn't handle his being Rush empowered and less than human again. It told him the changes in him were
right for her to be aware of. Suddenly everything that made sense just moments ago when he was afraid seemed snuffed out and gone, and his greatest wish was to keep the dark pact his secret and his alone. It was bad enough he had told Lothos. No one else must know until he could finish off Plague-Sever and the Sith Lord and be free of the curse he now bore; the curse that threatened to lose him everything he'd believed in and fought for.
"No. That's it Rachel. I may be mortal, but I have to get the Spectre and with Lothos and a few Slayers' help, I'm gonna do it. I know I can purge the thing. But we're not telling the ASG. They can't know we're training young Slayers. They wouldn't approve since I'm no longer a Slayer. Only Cabbott and a few young Slayers know as well as Agent's Gato and Archangel. Can you keep this between us, sweetie, please?" He spoke deliberately and carefully with no trace of his Acadian accent. Had she not been so emotionally drained Rachel would easily have been able to tell what a lie she had just been fed, but for some reason it got away from her.
She raised and eyebrow, but seemed to approve of his candor. "I'm not sure I'm comfortable keeping a secret from the ASG after I ranted so hard about you not keeping secrets from me!" She grinned but he knew he could trust her and reached over to kiss her cheek.
Rachel had a slight uncomfortable look about her.
"What's wrong now?"
"It's just that you never called me `sweetie' before."
"Oh...ah'm sorry. You didn't like it?"
"No, it's okay. Just a little wierd, that's all, Gav. This fighting wierds me out."
"So we're good?"
"You keep it real and we're good."
GAVAL smiled and pulled some Spearmint gum out of his waistcoat, offering her a stick.
"Nice jacket, by the way."
"Thanks. Wilson's stuck it to me on the price, but it holds a good stake or two."
No, that's not me. It can't be me. There's nobody here by that name.
"I'm sorry Nabob."
There's no need to be sorry, everything's fine, everything's fine. Don't apologize, apologies mean that something bad has happened, and nothing bad could ever happen to us, right? So you shouldn't apologize, right?
"He won't be coming back."
Lies. All lies. Liar liar pants on fire. He's fine. There's nothing the matter. You're wrong. You have to be wrong. Please say that you're wrong.
"I'm so sorry "
This isn't right. He has to come back. He still has to be there for me. He told me that we would go to New Orleans this Halloween, and that we could fly that new kite up on Old Wicker's Hill before it got too cold, and that we could go sailing on the Thames come spring, and and how could he not be coming back?
He was there back at Christmas time, when the whole family gathered at our house to celebrate. Laughter and camaraderie, carving the bird, the faces of old friends and cherished loved ones caught in the flashing of goblets and the melodies of age-old carols. He was there, smiling with the good cheer of the holiday season, arm lovingly tucked around you, you liar, not wanting that moment to end any more than I did. How could you say that he won't be back this time? How could you?
He took us to Scotland on vacation a few months ago, remember that? You have to remember, you were there, right alongside him and me!
He's still alive. I know it.
Two days ago I saw him, standing right where you are now, beckoning me to come near. He held me in his arms for a long moment and then showed me what he was carrying, wrapped lovingly in cloth. A book, hardened and bound with metal straps. It was old and it smelled like the grave, and when I wrinkled my nose he laughed like he always did does. "This is our salvation," he told me. "This is what will make sure that you won't have to grow up in fear."
"What is it, father?" I asked.
He wouldn't tell me, of course, everyone always says I'm still too young to know such things. But he did say again that it was to be our salvation.
And then there was the ruckus in the night, someone was in the house, oh God
someone was in the house with us.
You were gone, they took you, you left me. But he was there for me afterwards, he was
there for me when I needed it. I saw the tears running down his face that night, I saw how much he loved you, and now you have the gall to tell me that he's gone? He said to me that he had to go away for a little while to help you
by God, already betraying his memory! but he promised that he would be back. Then he went, left me with Dyke and Reggie, and went out to try to find you, to try to help you.
You came back. He didn't.
Why did it happen?
I don't want it to have happened! It isn't true! I don't want it to be true! TELL ME THAT IT ISN'T TRUE!
"I'm so sorry, Nabob."
Nabob awoke ferociously, sweat soaking the front of his torn shirt and a furious shout already spearing out of his throat, threatening to envelop the entire world.
. He was surrounded by darkness, enmeshed within it, trapped and disoriented. But that didn't worry him. He had always lived in the darkness, ever since that day.
So many years ago.
Slowly, painfully, he reclined back down onto the cot, resting his head upon the feathered rock of a pillow, the dream already fading from the forefront of his memory. It wasn't the first time that it had come to him, and he was certain that it wouldn't be the last time, either. Some memories, some
were too much a part of us to be disregarded for long.
This one, unfortunately, had the tendency to be particularly vocal.
Footsteps reverberated down the wooden floor of the hallway, and light suddenly spilled into Nabob's darkness as a door swung open.
"What is the matter?"
The voice was deep, gruff, and deeply irritated at having been woken in an unsettling fashion. Nabob's arm instinctively went in front of his face to shield his eyes from the radiance, but he could still make out the burly silhouette standing, arms folded, in his doorway.
"Nothing " the Chimneysweep murmured back. "Close the bloody door "
"Then why were you mewling like an infant?"
An infant? "It was just a bad dream." Anger suddenly shot through him. Why did he owe this man any answers? "Thanks for your concern, now get the hell out."
A contemptuous snort. "Your weakness gains you no credit with us, Guild-Slayer." Then the door closed again, submerging Nabob in the palpable darkness of his room.
He sighed audibly, the full scope of his situation suddenly recurring to him. It hadn't been many days ago that he had first arrived here in Austria, seeking impossible answers to unlikely questions that his superiors in the Ambiguous Slayers Guild needed to know. His presence was not coincidence. There were those in the Guild who had been his friends for as long as he could remember, who had nurtured him and comforted him during the difficult time after his father's death, and who had played a key roll in his upbringing. Most of them, however, were now dead, through one means or another. The Great Holy War had seen to that, with thousands of Slayers lying dead in dozens of unmarked graves, an image reminiscent of the rows of white pillars planted in the ground in Flanders or on the beaches of Normandy in Europe. Many of those who had taken the helm following the War were not as amiable to Nabob. His past failures had amounted to reassignment somewhere that they judged that he couldn't hinder the hunt for the Plague Sever Spectre any longer.
Fortunately for the lone Chimneysweep, it seemed that destiny did not always correspond with what the almighty A.S.G. had in mind. Here he had accidentally uncovered the presence of the Rogue Slayers.
If I even let myself believe in destiny,
he mused, renewed fatigue coming upon him as quickly as the old dream washed away from his senses.
If there's a destiny for all of us, then that means that each of our lives has a purpose. Does mine? Does this chance meeting with these Rogue Slayers have a purpose?
His thoughts immediately darkened.
And what about Rae? Did her death have a purpose? Was that her destiny, to die in my arms in some godforsaken alleyway? No...no, I can't believe that. There was no purpose there. It was meaningless and random, just like every drive-by shooting you read about in the newspapers.
"And when I find the monster who did it " he heard his own voice without being consciously aware of speaking, harsh and vengeful to the point where he barely recognized it as his own. Then, however, he discovered that he didn't know how to finish the sentence.
I do then? Charge in impulsively like my father?
Die in the process?
"He won't be coming back."
Why did it have to happen?
"I'm so sorry, Nabob "
The morning air was cool and fresh in the Bavarian Alps, far from the streamlined smog that corroded most of the eastern part of the continent, and equally far from the stylized contemporary fever of west European capitalism. Nabob inhaled gratefully. Vienna was a charming city during the daylight hours but there was still something altogether too
about it. While he wasn't as violently adverse to the urban sprawl as some people and even some Slayers were, he still enjoyed returning to the unconfined borderlands of civilization. And where he was now certainly qualified as borderland.
The lodge, originally built quite some time ago and obviously renovated multiple times since, was as much an architectural miracle as it was a nightmare. It was built directly on the side of a mountain, and while Nabob wasn't good at precise mental measurements, it was easily a thousand feet down to the bottom of the valley from the railing upon which he now leaned. If he took a tumble it wouldn't be
down, of course, since the lodge hugged the side of the sloping mountain, but he still pitied anyone foolish enough to take the plunge.
Nabob still pitied himself to some degree as well. His legs still ached from the hour-long uphill walk from the Austrian town of Bludenz to get to the lodge. Bludenz was at the far,
western end of the Austrian frontier. They were currently situated almost within spitting distance of the tiny country of Liechtenstein.
"Do you like the view?"
He turned and smiled at Kali, commander of the Rogue Slayer unit that he had stumbled upon, as she stepped out the doorway of the lodge and out onto the patio beside him. Her elegant form swept through the mountain breeze without so much as a rustling.
"Not bad. When you've seen the Canadian Rockies, though, these mountains seem a lot more like mole hills." He said the last two words in English, not knowing the German equivalent.
She turned a sharp, inquisitive eye to him. "
?" While she spoke English, it wasn't her native language, or even her second one, so most of their conversing was done in the more guttural German tongue. Nabob rarely had any difficulty communicating, though, since Chimneysweeps were ingrained with natural linguistic talents.
"They're pretty small in comparison," he said quickly.
"Ah. This is so. They
large enough to suit our purposes, though."
"And what purpose would that be?"
"Isolation, of course." Kali gave him a knowing look. Her slanted eyes and dark coloration gave the distinct impression of being partially Asian. Nabob had noticed this before, and had also noticed it in Jabez, one of the other Rogue sorcerers whom he had met.
"I see. So is this, ah, your big fortress prime? Your headquarters."
He hadn't been expecting a
, and didn't receive one. The lodge was simply too small, and besides, they were the only people there. It had been deserted when they came, although it hadn't been abandoned for long. "No, of course not. This is more of a " she chose her word carefully, " gateway."
"To our Home, of course."
Of course. "But I know there aren't any roads that come out this way, and the only path I saw from the lodge was the one that we "
Surprisingly, she pressed a finger to his lips. He was afraid for a moment that she was going to try to use some sort of magic to shut him up, but all that she did was softly
him. "I would try to explain it here, but it will be easier and better when you see for yourself."
"Alright." He paused. "So when do we go?"
"Soon. Jabez is completing the spell right now, back inside."
"Oh." His brow wrinkled. "Aren't you in charge of this bunch?"
"I lead them on this mission, yes. But the spell only requires one Rogue, and he volunteered. It simply takes a lot of time."
he sighed inwardly,
It shouldn't have surprised him, really. Ever since he had picked up the legendary Amulet of Karvalle in the old Spectre catacombs Nabob had seen more magic at work than he had ever thought existed previously. The Rogues used and manipulated magic as a part of their inborn talents, children of a powerful Sorceress Slayer. It was their key weapon in their own private battle against evil, and was also what had allowed them to hide from the sight of the A.S.G. for so long.
Or was it? Even with magic, Nabob found it hard to believe that such an organization could have existed anywhere for long without the Guild and more specifically his own Chimneysweep branch getting wind of it. Another mystery on top of a pile of too many.
A scraping sound behind him snapped the Chimneysweep back into the present. Turning, he found the third Rogue in their group standing at the entrance, a hefty, well-muscled man by the name of Torvan. Unlike both Kali and her sorcerous companion Jabez, Torvan was a straight-out fighter, as exemplified by the sleek punching dagger that he currently ran his finger across. While Nabob had seen him use some magic in the battle against a pack of vampires back in Vienna, it clearly wasn't as strong, or even of the same variety, as that which the other two used. On top of that, there was no sign of Asian descent in his features; he was clearly of pure Germanic stock.
"I thought I might find you out here," Torvan growled. So far his relationship with Nabob had been somewhat strained. "Has the Guild-Slayer been disturbing you, princess?"
. Nabob had heard him call her that several times during their shared days, but it had always slipped his mind to ask Kali what he meant by it.
Kali, for her part, set her hands upon her hips. "He's not disturbing me, Torvan."
"Yeah, I'm not disturbing her," Nabob snapped. "And how is it your business even if I was?"
"Everything you do is my business until I am told otherwise, Guild-Slayer."
"Leave him be, Torvan," Kali sighed, then turned away, back towards the door. "I will check upon Jabez. Try not to kill one another while I'm gone." With that, she left, her willowy form disappearing back into the lodge as though carried on a faint breeze.
There was a long moment of silence while the two Slayers, Rogue and Chimneysweep, regarded one another.
"Nice to know that we've established a secure foundation of trust between us," Nabob mused.
"There is no reason in the world for us to trust the likes of
," the fighter practically spat the last word, taking Nabob aback slightly with his ferocity. "All the Guild-Slayers I have ever known have been self-serving and dangerous. You have yet to prove yourself any better."
"And how many of us
have you bothered to get to know before you either
them or killed them outright?"
Torvan's scowl deepened. "I know not what your game here is, Guild-Slayer, but if you ever
do anything to harm the princess, I will personally ensure that you face the wrath of justice."
"The princess?" It didn't seem like the right moment to ask about that. "
? Hey, remember,
was the one who asked
to come along with you!"
"Don't try to shield your motives behind details! Heed my warning, or else you and many other Guild-Slayers will suffer for it."
"Is that a threat or a promise?"
He didn't hesitate. "A threat, of course. One that you would be wise to pay attention to!"
"How could I not? You're so eloquent and all."
Torvan scowled fiercely at him again and stalked away. Nabob turned again to survey the calm, soothing vista or the panoramic Alps. He did so for a few seconds before burying his head in his hands.
What have I gotten myself into?
Year of the Spectre Episode 2 - Page 2