Year of the Spectre - Episode II:
"Summer Twilight"
Page 2



        Lothos, looking a bit puzzled and far more dignified than usual, paced back and forth around GAVAL who sat in a chair in an otherwise empty classroom and watched his friend carefully. Lothos' hair was pulled back in a ponytail and the thick leather sleeves of his jacket were pushed up passed the elbows and he paced and rubbed his chin, obviously in deep thought. He paused and turned to GAVAL with catlike swiftness and shouted at the top of his lungs:

        "Your mum is so fat your dad has to roll over twice just to get off her!"

        GAVAL stared at Lothos with a slightly worried look on his face but otherwise gave no reaction. Lothos scowled and began pacing again. As GAVAL watched him go back and forth he again stopped, turned to the Cajun, put his hands on GAVAL's shoulders and screamed.

        "Your father is as dumb as a lead balloon!"

        "Your grandma is as useless as a porcupine in a condom factory!"

        "Your mother has a wooden leg with a kick stand!"

        GAVAL continued to stare and shook his head in a negative response.

        Lothos frowned again then kicked the Slayer's chair over so GAVAL was startled and lying on his back. Looking up at Lothos who bent over him GAVAL watched the flustered Kiwi's hair slowly loose itself a few strands at a time from the hair catch behind his head.

        "Yo mamma so fat her blood type is mayonnaise!"

        GAVAL couldn't contain himself. He snorted a laugh, then abruptly covered his mouth knowing he had blown his cover.

        "Dammit, GAVAL, you're supposed to feel insulted!"

        "I know! I know...this isn't working."

        Lothos reached a hand down and helped his comrade up. " For the love of Pookie, what pisses you, GAVAL!?"

        GAVAL shrugged. "I don't like my pie taken away."

        "No, no, no! I mean what REALLY burns your blood!"

        "Well it's not `you mamma so fat' jokes, that's for sure. By the way, yo mamma so fat when she fall over she wind up in another state."

        The pair both smiled in a moment's silence and took in the moment as the smell of old chalk and ammonia from the infrequent janitor's visit filled the air.

        "What you need is motivation! We need a catalyst. Something that drives your inner anger. What's the most infuriated you've ever been?"

        "Well, I got pretty wound up the time Darth Ninny flushed the toilet while ah was showering. Makes the water really hot ya know..."

        "We don't need hot water, we need hot Cajun! You know what the problem is, Gav, you're just too good-natured a person. We need to appeal to the dark side of yours, if there is one."

        Gaval sat back in his chair and unwrapped a piece of spearmint gum, holding it out go Lothos who declined. He well knew there was darkness in there, but it was always well-contained.

Lothos suddenly looked up at a bulletin board with cardboard cutouts of storybook characters and snapped his fingers. "Jinkies," he whispered to himself as he turned around to GAVAL with an ear to ear grin above his hugely square jaw. GAVAL looked up at Lothos and gulped. Behind the New Zealander on the wall was a cardboard cutout of the big bad wolf blowing down a straw house.

        "Sephroth," said Lothos with fiery eyes.

        GAVAL immediately frowned and sat up. "What?"

        "Sephroth," said Lothos again a bit louder. "Who's chased you around the globe with nothing more than seeing you suffering as his motivation?"

        "Sephroth," quipped GAVAL.

        "Who's taken more lives than Musollini and bragged about it while tying you up and preparing you for torture?"

        "Sephroth."

        "Who took over a world in the Great War? Saw you dead before he let up in planetary conquest? Led you back in time while he worked to end everything you love before it ever had a chance to be? KILLED you again just for the heck of it?"

        "Sephroth," replied GAVAL. Hate began to resonate in his usually chipper voice.

        "Who keeps coming back every time you put him down? Brought a New York landmark down to rubble? Let Malice loose to kill more Slayers? Killed a thousand of them in a warehouse fire? Killed tens of thousands more by taking over the baddies forces at the Mojave? Was brought to the end of time so he'd never live to hurt anyone again but STILL managed to make his way back to hurt you again and again?"

        "SEPHROTH."

        "Good. Now who sided with that guy in the Great Holy War? Used diabolical powers to kill one of your own pure-blooded brethren and reanimate the poor soul to do his bidding? Created that day an abomination of everything the ASG stands for?"

        "Nighteye."

        "Who stole your girlfriend? Dragged her a dimension away to hell on earth? Almost lost you what meant the most to you and laughed about it when he got away snot free? Set up shop in the purest of wildernesses and is now taking down the unstable new government of the largest geographic democracy on the planet? "

        "Nighteye." The Cajun was definitely agitated. He usually managed to take the past and put it away in a lockbox where it couldn't haunt him, but was now being forced to confront old demons and he didn't like it. "That's enough Lothos."

        "Who got in the way of a perfect date? Interrupted the first peaceful time in your life since Slayerhood? Dragged you back into a world of violence against your better judgement?" There was no way Lothos was letting up now.

        "NIGHTEYE. Stop it, Lothos."

        "No. Who tricked you into a pact with evil? Left you alienated from the Guild? Has you avoiding you parents? Caused you to almost lose your girlfriend by giving you a truth you couldn't share? Leaves you hiding FROM SLAYERS YOU CALL FRIENDS? WHO, GAVAL?!"

        "NIGHTEYE, GODDAMIT."

        "Now, WHAT RUINED YOUR HALLOWEEN NIGHT BY KILLING YOUR FRIENDS AND STRIPPING YOU AND CABBOTT OF YOUR RIGHTEOUS PUREBLOOD POTENCY? ANSWER ME NOW!"


        "SPECTRE." The Cajun winced and doubled over, gnashing his teeth and growling in frustration at the way Lothos had him cornered and was yelling at him relentlessly.

        "WHAT TOOK AWAY EVERYTHING YOU HAD FINALLY GROWN ACCUSTOMED TO AND FORCED YOU INTO A HUMILIATING LIFE OF SCHOOL BOOKS AND MINIMUM WAGE JOBS?"

        "
SPECTRE! AND IT WASN'T HUMILIATING! IT WAS THE NORMALCY AH WANTED OUTTA LIFE!" Something was going on under those dark glasses GAVAL usually wore. Something feral and uncontrollable.

        "BULLSHIT! YOU NEVER WANTED THAT LIFE! YOU WANTED TO MAKE EVIL PAY FOR THE WAY IT HURT YOU AND THOSE YOU LOVED, AND WHO RAPED YOUR VERY LIFE FORCE AND MADE A SNACK OF IT, ONLY TO RETURN AFTER YOU AGAIN AND AGAIN, FOLLOWING YOU ACROSS THE COUNTRY TO YOUR VERY HOME IN IRVINE, ONLY TO KILL EVEN MORE OF THE ALLYS IT TOOK AWAY FROM YOU? WHO KILLED RAE GAVAL?" He whispered suddenly, "Who killed the woman Nabob loved?"

        "
PLAGUE-SEVER," spat GAVAL in a voice that sounded more like a creature's roar than a human voice. He had his face inches away from Lothos'. He was holding the CWALer by the throat six inches above the ground and had him pressed against a wall. His eyes glowed with a deep and angry royal purple glow. GAVAL's other hand was pressed into the cinder blocks of the schoolroom's wall and had reached in and crushed an eight inch deep by eight inch wide hole of stone. The powder of what had been that portion of the wall was slowly hissing as it fell to the floor like sands of an hourglass into a neat little pile.

        "Gav?"

        "
WHAT."

        "You're hurting me. Normally I wouldn't complain but I think I just felt my jugular burst."

        The Cajun gasped as he realized he was having murderous thoughts towards one of his best friends. He instantly let Lothos drop to the floor and backed away shaking his head and spitting out the gum in his mouth. He looked down at his hands and noticed they were throbbing with power. Everything in the room was bright and had a purple hue to it as his sense of sight was somehow enhanced and attenuated to a very supernaturally broad spectrum. He could see radio waves and heat waves. Infrared and Ultraviolet. Night vision and yet so much more.

        "
Ah...I'm sorry."

        "No pain no gain, right?" asked Lothos as he straightened his jacket. "Besides, I've been meaning to have my neck adjusted. Slept poorly on it last night."

        GAVAL seemed to not hear his friend as he reached over to a school desk and lifted it by the table top with a mere bend of his wrist. The Rush, or something very similar, was with him. "
We did it," he mumbled. "God pound it, we did it."

        "You did it," Lothos corrected. "Now you take that feeling and you remember it. You take those horrible things that those buggers have done to you and you make that your motivation. Call them the Unholy Trinity if you want. It's they who will make your vengeance possible."

        "
Yeah. Wit' the contempt ah have for dose t'ree, I can find the power to purge dis city...this world...of Plague-Sever. Hunt it down and destroy it. Slay it. An' den when Nighteye comes for me, he'll fyn' a very different Slayer. An' he won't win. And after dat, ah'll find SEPHROTH and finish him ONCE and for ALL, AND AFTER DAT ANY EVIL DAT GETS IN MAH WAY..."

        "OKAY, okay...it's time to calm down...you need to come down from where you are, Gav. Don't let your rage defeat you. Let it serve you. I've only got one neck, right?"

        "
Right...right...ah...I'm sorry...I just feel so...fawnky."

        "Think of something nice. Think of Rachel. Think of how you patched things up last night. Think of pie and Starcraft and that gum you're always chewing."

        The glow in GAVAL's eyes flittered for a moment and disappeared as his eyes rolled back and he swooned. Lothos caught him just in time to spare him an intimate moment with the floor.

        "Whoa! Who's holding who up now, eh, comrade?"

        "Man...feel all hung over now..."

        Lothos carried his friend over to a desk and sat him down. "This worked out quite nicely! Timing couldn't have gone better. The trainees will be here any minute for today's lesson."

        "I'm alright now. The Rush always leaves you feeling wiped for a coupl'a minutes when it goes away, but only for a minute or two. Somethin' ta do with the body switched over to a different type of sugar as a source of energy, they always told us."

        "Something tells me your body's using a lot more than sugar, the way you crushed that cinder block."

        They both turned to the sound of laughing teens entering the relatively bare rented-out classroom. In the waning light of sunset some fifteen new Slayers along with Cabbott, the ASG's west coast Slayer Recruiter and long time friend of GAVAL's entered the room and gradually took their seats. Cabbott smiled and tipped an imaginary hat at GAVAL who nodded back, still somewhat dazed at what had just occurred.

        Turning around before they could get settled GAVAL looked into a mirror over the lavatory of the old classroom and made sure there was no sign of what he had just been through. Other than looking a bit pale and having a bit of dried saliva at the corners of his mouth everything looked okay. He pushed his fedora back a bit and pulled his sunglasses into place, a bit paranoid that his eyes might start glowing again, and turned back to the class as Lothos had begun speaking to them. These kids still thought he had lost his Slayer powers.

        "As we discussed briefly yesterday, one doesn't always get to go into battle prepared. Often times you may find yourself drawn into one sort of conflict or another with nary a weapon or a moment's preparation. This being the case more often than not, we're going to be working on your skills of improvisation in the art of making evil things dead. We'll begin with an experiment in melee verses ranged combat using examples from 1970's good cop/bad cop TV dramas..."

        "Where's Jude?" asked GAVAL.

        Marco frowned and raised his hand as GAVAL pointed to the youth. "We all usually meet up at Kysha's before class, but Jude stopped showing up the last few times and usually comes in on his own now."

        Lothos and GAVAL looked at each other. Jude was getting to be a problem. Everyone else had gracefully come to terms with the unusual training Lothos had been providing them in preparation for a Slayer-Powered hunt for the Spectre. Cabbott had done a great job of explaining to them that they'd be offered special training few young Slayers would ever see, but that it had to be kept a secret from the rest of the Ambiguous Slayers' Guild. Only Jude seemed to question things constantly. Why was GAVAL back in the guild when he had no powers? Why was a necromancer teaching Slayers how to put down evil? Why were they training with undead warriors made of Spam?

        One by one the class had become more and more frustrated with Jude's interruptions, and for Lothos Jude had become a threat to maintaining loyalty and commitment from his students. GAVAL was becoming plain fed up with the college kid. As one of the older students in the Spectre Hunt Class, Jude seemed to feel he had by default some type of leadership role amongst the young purebloods, yet he did nothing to set any kind of example.

        "Sounds like someone's gonna get a tardy demerit," joked GAVAL. The class really held a loose level of discipline as everyone operated on the old Slayer Honor Code. Everyone simply did as they were ordered in the name of God. Cooperation with one another was cooperation with the Divinity himself. Jude, though, didn't seem to think the Spectre Hunters were operating under any divine jurisdiction. GAVAL and Lothos knew the really dangerous thing about Jude's opinion was that he was right, and if he could convince the class of this fact, the whole group could fall apart.

        Sasha, a young Redneck class of Slayer broke in. "Ya'll, I'm serious. This is getting to be a real problem. That guy is not taking anything we do here seriously. He told me that this whole Spectre Hunt was only extracurricular to our regular training. Jude told me we didn't have to show up and that it wouldn't make a difference whether we learned what ya'll taught us or not because we could never use Lothosian Combat around the ASG anyway."

        GAVAL turned to his comrade and smirked. "Lothosian Combat?"

        "I thought it had a nice ring to it. What would you have called it?" asked Lothos.

        "Chaos Artistry, perhaps?"

        "Oooh," smiled Lothos as his eyes lit up. "I likee."

        "Looks like ah'll be havin' a conversation with Jude if he ever shows up, but the truth of the matter, Sasha, is that none of you really do have to show up. You're here on your own accord. We're all here because we all agree that something more pro-active needs to be done about the Spectre. If the ASG gets it first, so be it, but if we get to it first, then who knows how many more lives we might have saved? Plus you guys get to have a little hands on evil-slaying experience which is fun and way more useful in learning the ropes if you don't mind the danger."

        GAVAL could be very convincing. He had been where these trainees were less than a decade ago and they looked up to him having accomplished so much in such a short career as a young Slayer. For Slayer teens like Sasha and Marco the loss of GAVAL as a part of the ASG to Plague-Sever was the greatest of tragedies (for they knew nothing of his pact with Nighteye or he and Lothos' secret lessons in rage management) and a harsh reminder of what could happen to them, but every Slayer had a choice to back out at any time. With one mindwipe they could be back living their normal lives and made never to Rush or hear of the supernatural again.

        Lothos smoothed his hair back and grabbed a pointer, "Now back to our lesson...MOE!"

        The sickening sound of meat-like substance being dropped repeatedly filled the room as a smelly and barely humanoid form entered the class. Instantly the entire group of young Slayers grew agitated as their powers started to react to the presence of an undead entity.

        "I hate it when we school with Moe," griped Marco as he grabbed his stomach. The Rush brought pain, and every Slayer in the room was suddenly adrenalized with agony as their eyes glowed various shades of Blue, white, and gold.

        Cabbott frowned as he watched the young trainees writhing. He knew all too well what that used to feel like. GAVAL could read the pain in his friend's face. They had both lost so much that night to Plague-Sever and it made the Cajun extremely frustrated to see the longing look on Cabbott's face; a tragic irony that it pained Cabbott that he wasn't sharing in his recruitees pain.

        "We've seen Moe in melee with Curly and Larry. My Spam warriors, like many undead, use nasty tactics often resulting in an indomitably dangerous blunt contact type of attack that could break bones or steal away precious consciousness." Moe slowly moved towards Lothos as he spoke and began reaching out for the Kiwi's leg.

        "It smells like old chicken," Sasha whispered to Garland, a rather dorky Slayer-Baker who sat in front of her.

        "Now class, as we can see, hand to hand combat with the undead HE'S EATING MY LEG is somewhat more difficult than say... COP THAT, YOU BASTARD standing out of range and setting fire to them. Entering into range enables them to YEEEOW use their unnatural strength and OW BITY BITY to dispense PAIN to the righteous."

        Pulling back the Spam warrior from his friend's leg, GAVAL noticed Jude entering the room, eyes aglow.

        "Nice timing, Jude. You get to hold back Moe while Lothos finishes explaining melee vs. ranged combat with the undead."

        "I almost turned around when I felt the Rush kick in. Those meat things are ridiculous! There's no way in hell I'm touching that thing so forget it." Jude walked up to Sasha and kicked her desk. "You're in my chair, hick."

        Sasha almost exploded but contained herself when Marco reached over and squeezed her arm. Slayers were tense enough while Rushed without antagonizing one another. "There's an empty desk on the other side of the room where no one else is sitting, College Boy. I suggest you use it instead," she growled. It was a warning shot. Behind them Lothos was jumping around on one leg as Moe clung to his jeans and GAVAL tried to pull the Spam Warrior off.

        "Fine, sit your bony ass wherever you like. It's not like I'm gonna stick around if this gets boring anyway. This whole class is probably a waste of time anyway."

        He does have cahonies, thought Cabbott, the former Slayer-Cajun. He stepped up to Sasha and Jude who were now both standing and facing one another angrily. "Stow that attitude, Slayer. You're here as a privilege, not by choice. Remember the Honor Code. `All the good...by all the means...'"

        "That doesn't mean I have to get along with this lemming, sir," frowned Jude as Sasha stepped over her desk towards him and placed her thumbs into the belt loops of her Levis. She could feel her muscles tensing and relaxing as the superhuman blood coursing through her veins begged for some type of exertion and release.

        "What'd you just call me, Jude?"

        Sasha and Jude stood potentially an inch or so apart, clearly about to tear each other's lungs out. A pair of large hands in black fingerless gloves closed on Jude's shoulders and dunked him headfirst into a sink of water.

        Lothos turned to the class, still holding the struggling Jude under water as he spoke conversationally, "I've never liked bullies. They make my fists itch." Sasha sighed and sat back at her desk running her fingers through her short auburn hair as Jude struggled against the unyielding Kiwi.

        Finally Lothos released Jude and calmly pointed him to an empty desk away from the angry Sasha, "I believe that seat's not taken." Jude coughed and wiped his hair out of his eyes as he quietly dripped over to the desk and sat down.

        "Right. We were talking about the unnatural strength of the undead. After this experiment, I need you, Marco, to check the notes on my desk for the conclusion. Okay?"

        Marco nodded.

        "Sorted. Moe, hit me."

        *SPLATCH.*

        There was silence and GAVAL and Cabbott's eyes went wide. Marco walked around the unconscious body of Lothos to the desk, and searched through grubby paper for the conclusion. He finally grabbed the right piece of paper and read to the class.

        "Nuff said."

**********

        As Nabob eventually discovered, there was more to the Rogue Slayers' private lodge in the Bavarian Alps than met the eye.

        He also discovered precisely why it made such an ideal headquarters…no, as Kali had put it, such an ideal gateway to their headquarters. Anybody seeking to infiltrate it would be faced with the unpleasant prospect of an hour-long hike up a mountain on a poorly-marked trail. Nabob was willing to bet that it was booby-trapped, too, just to make life even more difficult for unwelcome guests. Then, even if they managed to find the lodge, all that anybody would discover would be a well-used yet tidy building up on the side of a mountain, without a sign of anything bigger being staged out of it. Deception, after all, often made the best security. Nabob had learned that well as a Slayer Chimneysweep.

        Even so, he had been rather surprised when Kali had led him down a secret passage built into one of the walls in the shower stall. For an instant his mind flashed back to one of the Slayer safe houses in California where Van had originally briefed Nabob and Rae on the impending Plague Sever crisis.

        Rae…God I miss you, Rae…

        
It didn't take much to bring the old memories back, but he forced them down with a gulp, swallowing his sorrow. There would be other times for that.

        The passage down which she led him was molded out of the rock, a masterful tunneling job that Nabob judged would have either required powerful machinery or powerful magic. Given the locale, and given the company he was with, Nabob knew which one was more likely.

        "How do you keep these things going?" the Chimneysweep asked, beckoning towards the magical globes of daylight that hovered against the wall and illuminated the tunnel.

        "These ones are fresh," the Rogue Slayer replied delicately, as though taking a moment to appreciate their beauty. "I lit them when we first arrived here a few days ago. They will dissipate shortly after we leave."

        "Oh."

        The tunneled stairwell eventually led out into a cavern, as exquisitely and skillfully carved as the stairwell, that formed a bubble-shaped dome in the surrounding solid rock. It too was well-lit by the magical globes, and in the magical light Nabob could see a gleaming crystal shard mounted upon an iron stand in the exact center of the room. The crystal – perhaps the length of his arm – seemed to be glowing of its own accord, with a distinct purple light that throbbed from within its translucent chassis.

        Not surprisingly, Torvan and Jabez were both already down there, the former leaning against one of the stone walls with idle vigilance, and the latter sitting – no, floating a good foot off the ground – cross-legged in front of the crystal. Nabob suddenly remembered the fourth Rogue Slayer, the one named Alpri, who had been killed back in Vienna, and wondered what they had done with his body.

        "I trust that you locked the door?" Jabez smiled innocently as they came down the steps.

        "Yes," Kali replied wearily.

        "Made sure all the windows were closed?"

        "Of course."

        "Changed the bedspread?"

        "Don't push your luck." She smiled back at him, and for an instant Nabob could see an air of unmistakable intimacy between the two of them. Was there something going on there? That was one more thing that Nabob made a mental note to investigate. A second later he caught himself and wondered why he had thought it important.

        "So…pardon my ignorance, but what's going to happen here?" he asked out loud.

        "We're going Home."

        "Home?"

        "You might call it a headquarters," Jabez interjected. "But all of us grew up in this headquarters, so we simply refer to it as Home."

        "Right. And where is Home?"

        "Somewhere far removed from the Guild, that's for certain."

        "Home is a difficult place to explain," Kali said. "It exists in a kind of pocket dimension, separate from the larger one and yet tied to it in many ways. Our forefathers created it centuries ago when they ran out of places to hide from the Guild during our exodus. It is a place where we can live freely and without fear."

        Nabob had been ready for a number of answers, but that wasn't one of them. "And you have to come all the way up here to get to it?"

        "…No."

        "Then why…?"

        "Because the spatial ambience around the pocket dimension is ruptured every time we push ourselves through with conventional magic. We can teleport to Home from anywhere on Earth, but when we do it damages the space/time that holds the pocket dimension steady. If we do that enough times the ambience will be disrupted permanently, and then…well, only the Divinity knows what could happen." Kali beckoned towards the crystal. "We have a number of these set up and hidden around the globe. They allow for a smoother transition between this dimension and Home. If we use the crystals no damage is done to the pocket. We only use direct transport in extreme emergencies these days."

        "Well, I'm no quantum mechanics expert," Nabob replied, rubbing his neck, "but I suppose that makes a certain degree of sense."

        "Princess," Torvan said, "I ask you one last time to reconsider. This Guild-Slayer has already seen too much, but if we bring him to Home the damage that he could cause would be irrevocable. None but our number have ever set foot on Home, and the possibility of an outsider, of a Guild-Slayer doing so is still…irresponsible!"

        "I made up my mind long ago, Torvan. This is the way."

        The gruff fighter folded his arms. "As you have it. But never hold me responsible for what comes of your actions."

        She smiled sweetly. "Never." Then with a long, significant glance back at Nabob, she spoke to Jabez. "Activate the crystal."

        Her fellow magic-user wasted little time, immediately launching into a practiced rhythm of final incantations. The crystal flared with energy, burning tendrils of pure light that crept out of the device itself, spilling out onto the rocky floor. Light poured out into every corner of the room, nothing concealed, nothing hidden, and within seconds Nabob could feel an embrace around him. At first he thought that it might have been Kali, but the feeling was much warmer than mere physical contact, more familiar than the distracted touch of a stranger. For a moment he almost considered the possibility that…

        Rae?

        
Then he was swept away into the light, lost in a euphoria of radiance.

        When the light from the crystal finally vanished, the cavernous dome room was left both dark and utterly empty, with only the faint scent of ozone marking their passing.

**********

        Cabbott took over the class for the next forty-five minutes as GAVAL worked to revive Lothos while chomping away on a tasteless piece of Spearmint gum.

        "Ya know, you could have just TOLD them about Moe's strength."

        "Yeah, but there's something to be said for hands-on face experience. Do you think they understood the lesson?"

        "Well, they all backed away to a corner of the room and trained their weapons on Moe until Cabbott and I took him into another classroom."

        Lothos sniffed and dabbed his eyes with his jacket sleeves, "Oh, the pride I have for those kids. So eager to learn! So anxious to please! They're growing up so fast!"

        GAVAL chuckled. "You remember the time that I assumed that you were a genuine necromancer and tried to stake you?"

        Lothos grinned. "That was entertaining in retrospect. You remember the time that I was conducting along to Apocalyptica's 'Hall of the Mountain King,' with the death knight staff, sneezed, and unleashed a veritable plague of the undead on suburbia?"

        GAVAL paused. "I don't remember that..."

        Lothos contrived to go slightly glassy eyed, although he never lost the fixed grin. He made a note on another grubby piece of paper and stuffed it into his jacket, before clearing his throat. "Class, we're going on a field trip today..."



Year of the Spectre Episode 2 - Page 3