Soopah sekrit to </a></a>nwhepcat : Ooooo! Pretty! Thank you for the card!
Okay, I lied a little. It's been a writing kind of night and this was ready to go.
Besides, I want to get back to Xander's creeping and increasing presence as much as the rest of you. And I wrote the damn thing.
(sticks fingers in ears and sings 'la-la-la-la' as I ignore doing my taxes because I know I'm going to owe again this year)
“It was so quiet,” Dave said in whisper. “It so very, very quiet that I thought I had gone deaf. From all that noise to nothing. No evidence that anything happened, except for these two complete strangers staring down at me like they weren’t sure what they were going to do about me.”
“I can’t imagine what you were thinking at that point.”
“Honestly? I was in still in shock,” Dave says. “The moment got ruined when Harris cracks this grin. I can see he’s riding this high like he’s been chewing kola nuts non-stop for 24 hours straight.” Dave started chuckling. “Do you know what the stupid son of a bitch says to me? Do you really want to know?”
“I’m afraid to ask.”
“He says, ‘A day that is bad you are having, I think, are you?” in this horrible French. I mean it was painful. Can you believe it? ‘A day that is bad,’ he says, like I just found out my application for a research grant had been turned down. ‘A day that is bad.’ And his French at that time really sucked to boot, so it was just that much better hearing that comment when the guy saying it couldn’t even speak the language right.” Dave snorted. He bowed to me and placed a hand over his heart, “Now, Eva, don’t get me wrong. I’m usually not one to cuss, but for you to understand my reaction, I’m going to be swearing like a truck driver in a traffic jam on I-95.”
“My ears will survive,” I assured him.
“So, I roll over onto my back while he and Ally close in and look down at me. I stare right back up at Harris and say in English, ‘Listen to me, you terrifying motherfucker. I’ve had a fucking bad day? I’ve had a bad goddamned week. Those assholes have been raping and pillaging their way across escarpment and the plains while they chased after me because I turned one of their asses into dust. By accident.’
“Harris’s grin disappears and he and Ally exchange this look like they think I’ve gone completely off the deep end. I don’t care, because I am on a roll.
“I point right at Harris and say, ‘I am going to have words — I’m going to have some real fucking words — with those assholes in Hollywood because they fucking lied to me. I’m going to march into the offices of every goddamned studio head living and dead and demand my money back. There’s no goddamned castle. There’s no tuxes. No fucking dinner parties. The only damn thing they got right was the fucking teeth. I want fucking Christopher Lee next time, do you understand me? I want fucking Christopher Lee because he’ll run his stupid ass into the sunlight because that’s what it says in the fucking script. I’ve had a bad day? A bad day? Are you out of your ever-loving-fucking mind? Are you completely high? Because if you are, I want whatever shit you’re taking so I can grin like a stupid motherfucker at a guy who’s had the week I’ve had and ask that question.’”
I swallowed back my laughter. “Well,” I choked out, “you did answer the question.”
“Harris is staring at me in shock. His lips move a little bit and I think I’ve had it now. I’ve just pissed off two people who killed eight vampires right in front of my eyes. When he finally digs out his voice, do you know what he says?”
“I somehow doubt it can top what I just heard,” I answered.
“He says in perfect English, ‘Hey! You’re American!’ Like meeting an American in the middle of Dogon country at night is the most amazing thing he did that day. Vampires? Same-old, same-old. Getting into a rumble with vampires? No big deal. But meeting up with another American? Holy cats! Stop the presses! That’s news!”
Thinking back on my own assumptions when I first saw Dave, I found myself against all reason rising to Mr. Harris’s defense. “To be fair, it was night and it was off the beaten path.”
“And I’ve got the same color skin as the locals,” Dave added.
I strove mightily against cringing, although I suspected I was not successful.
“Don’t worry about it,” Dave easily assured me. “The American accent coupled with the skin color works in my favor more often than not around here. If you got it, use it.”
“Yes, well, I do think you probably got to the source of Mr. Harris’s surprise, then.” I allowed. “And I confess, my own surprise when I first heard you speak.”
“Hey, at least you’re honest about it,” Dave good-naturedly nudged me. “Anyway, the whole thing strikes me so funny that I start laughing. Then I start crying. Then I start crying and laughing. I can’t stop. I try, but it’s not happening. I keep going like that because, you see, I was so grateful, so very pathetically grateful that I was still alive. I shouldn’t be, but there I am, still alive and kicking. But I was also feeling really guilty, you know? Guilty because I was still alive and all those people were dead and there was nothing anyone could do about it. I ran through almost a town a night, and all those towns paid for it.”
“Dave, it’s not your fault.” I felt like I should record the reassurance. “The vampires killed, not you. You simply got caught in the middle. You cannot blame yourself for something they did. You cannot blame yourself for their actions. You were defending yourself against them. They were the ones who made it a vendetta and punished the innocent.”
Dave said soberly, “Harris said basically the same thing after I calmed down enough to actually hear what he said. That took a little while, though.”
“At some point, I feel myself getting lifted up, but I’m so far gone in the laughing and crying that I can’t even react,” Dave said. “Now, Harris is three inches taller than me, give or take, and Ally is three inches shorter, so they had an awkward time dragging me to where they were staying. They bring me up to the roof because that’s where they were sleeping, and try to tuck me into one of the sleeping bags. I’m not having any of it. I start ranting and raving about everything. About my week. About the vampires. About the dead bodies. About my dreams about the girl. About how I have to get to her and tell her that the vampires weren’t going to kill her. About how my research has been shot all to hell. They just let me keep going. If I get too close to the edge of the roof, one of them gets right in my way so I’m forced to turn back and start pacing the middle of the roof again. Mostly they just watch me. Sometimes they exchange this look like they sometimes do in that nonverbal way they have, like I’ve said something important or I’ve said something they don’t want to believe. I keep going on like that for hours.”
“I don’t think anyone can blame you,” I said reassuringly.
“Anyway, sometime just before dawn, I finally calm down. I collapse into this little heap on the roof. Right about then the first sane thought of the day comes up and it’s, ‘Hoooo-boy. Who are these guys? How much trouble am I in right now?’
“While I’m slowly crossing back into sanity, Harris whispers something to Ally and she makes herself scarce. Harris then hunkers down opposite of where I’ve collapsed. He introduces himself and then he asks my name. Well that gets me giggling because he’s acting so normal that it’s bizarre. He waits for me to stop and asks my name again. This time I tell him and he nods like we’re just shooting the breeze and there’s nothing important going on.”
“Perhaps the best thing he could have done in that situation,” I allowed.
“I know that now, but you’ve got to understand that my life had taken a turn for the weird with a capital Weird,” Dave said. “Having a normal conversation with Harris like we were just another pair of tourists in Pays Dogon was maybe the weirdest thing that had happened all week. Not because it was weird, per se. It was weird because here’s this one-eyed white American guy wandering around the Séno-Gondo plains — which, let’s be honest, is where people actually make a hard living instead of catering to tourists — with this mysteriously gorgeous African young lady. Both of them just happen to not only be vampire experts, they can also cut through a gang of these monsters like it’s nothing.”
“I believe I see your point,” I dryly said.
“So you can see why I wasn’t having any of this normal chit-chat,” Dave nodded. “So I hit him with it. What are you, what is she, are either one of you even human, what are you doing here, and on and on and on. Harris keeps trying to interrupt, but I just keep hammering at him. He could’ve said he was the Archangel Michael and that he was lending a hand to Ally, my own personal Guardian Angel, and I probably would’ve believed that a whole lot more than the answers I finally got.”
“That’s when he told you?” I asked.
Dave shrugged. “Not everything. Good God, no, not everything. If he told me everything, I would’ve run screaming right off that roof and into the wilderness. Since I wasn’t about to give up until I got some answers, he told me just enough to shut me up and ensure that I wouldn’t go running off.”
I frowned. Dave’s story was similar to Sister Ig’s, with one telling exception. According to Sister Ig, Mr. Harris resisted telling her anything at all before he gave in and simply told her everything, although I had no idea if he told her a passel of half-truths like he did Dave or if he was completely honest. In Dave’s case, Mr. Harris parceled the information out to him.
“What did he tell you?” I asked out loud.
“Well, he said that he was definitely a nice, normal boy from California,” Dave began.
I barely held back a snort in disbelief.
Dave grinned at my cynicism. “He also said that even though she didn’t look it the night before, Ally was also human, just one that was special. He explained a little bit about Slayers and who they were and what they did.”
“How did you react?” I asked.
Dave frowned. “I’m a skeptical guy, normally. If Harris hit me with the whole story about Slayers at any other time in my life, I would’ve pegged him as a wounded war vet suffering from a case of PTSD.”
Dave would not have been far off the mark had he judged Mr. Harris to be such case even at that moment, I thought.
“But after the week I had?” Dave continued. “I was ready to hear it and believe it. I needed to hear it and believe it. After dealing with the reality of vampires, I was, ‘Oh, yeah. That makes perfect sense. You really do need people with special powers to take one of these things down, otherwise we’re all dead meat.’”
I looked sharply at Dave. “As far as I’m aware, Mr. Harris is perfectly human.”
“Experience is its own superpower, Eva,” Dave reminded me. “That’s something Harris has got in spades.”
That point was true beyond debate. “You would be hard-pressed to find a Watcher with as much field combat experience against vampires and demons as Mr. Harris,” I reluctantly agreed.
“Wow. The guy that took out the Council last year must’ve done a hell of a job,” Dave remarked. “I know Harris is 23, so that’s not a good sign when someone that young gets a designation like that.”
My eyes narrowed at that remark.
“What?” Dave asked.
Oh, dear reader, I know I shouldn’t have done it. I know that. Yet, something in me was curious about how Dave would react to even a taste of the truth. “Yes, well, we were gravely crippled by the attack,” I said slowly. “However, Mr. Harris has been battling demons since he was 16 or thereabouts.”
Dave stared at me.
I nodded in response.
Dave’s eyes tracked to the village and to Mr. Harris’s hut. There was no misinterpreting the look of shock on his face. Dave had no idea just who or what Mr. Harris really was.
I honestly had no idea what to think now that my suspicions were confirmed. Just as in the earlier revelation that Mr. Harris had only given Dave half-truths instead of the whole history of Slayers and Watchers, Mr. Harris’s reasoning utterly mystified me. He could have built up his experience to “prove” his superiority in such matters to Dave, and yet he failed to do so.
Even if, I mentally added, Mr. Harris would have had some justification for presenting his bonafides to whoever would listen.
“I believe there’s more to your story?” I innocently asked.
“What?” Dave startled and he looked at me. “Oh, yeah. Unh, well, anyway…where was I?”
“Mr. Harris had told you about Slayers,” I reminded him.
“Yeah, right. Okay.” Dave shook his head to clear it. “Anyway, he told me that he and Ally were in the area looking for a girl like her. These seers with this coven in Devon had pointed them to the escarpment, but they couldn’t give them the exact village. I guess sometimes they’re pinpoint accurate, and sometimes they can be really vague. This time, they were somewhere in the middle.”
I didn’t bother to contradict Dave’s statement, as I knew he was right on that. The seers’ ability to find Slayers varied wildly. They could give you the longitude and latitude of a Slayer halfway around the world, while utterly overlooking the Slayers on their doorstep until much later. No one knew the whys of this. Some Watchers had made it a project to see if there was a pattern. To my knowledge, no one had discovered any, although I admittedly did not inquire too closely when the subject was discussed.
“Problem is, you’ve got a lot of little villages around the escarpment and a lot of foot traffic,” Dave said. “It’s fine to get close to the mark when you’ve only got two or three options to choose from. When you’ve got more than a dozen? That’s a problem.”
“I can imagine.”
“On top of that, the locals weren’t being completely open with either one of them,” Dave continued. “The Dogon are actually a pretty open people, but only so much. There are just certain things they keep away from the tourists.”
“Like telling them that the ‘vengeful spirits of the dead’ are really bandits,” I said.
“Exactly,” Dave nodded. “Once Ally opened her mouth, it was pretty obvious to the locals that she wasn’t Dogon, so they couldn’t claim they were looking for a family member. The eyepatch wasn’t helping Harris, either. Don’t get me wrong. Harris is a nice guy overall, but that eyepatch can make him look like a suspicious character and it puts some people off. He doesn’t help himself when he gets frustrated. Instead of looking frustrated, he looks like he’s ready to rip your head off, but that’s because half his face is overshadowed by the eyepatch.”
“I can imagine,” I agreed.
“Anyway, they’d been wandering back and forth between the plains and the escarpment for a little over a week looking for this girl,” Dave continued. “One village would swear they had no idea what they were talking about and would send them to the next village. The next village would send them out to somewhere on the plains. That village would send them back to the escarpment and on and on and on.”
“They were being run in circles.”
“Exactly,” Dave said with a nod. “It just so happened that they had landed in the little outpost where I was earlier that day. They were trying to figure out a new angle to get people to talk when they heard the vampires yelling at me to come out and take my medicine like a man. The rest you know.”
“I’m surprised he told you these details,” I said.
“Well, according to Harris, they had a pretty good description of the girl they were looking for. It just so happened that my dream girl matched up with the description they heard,” Dave said.
“That’s not likely,” I said out of surprise.
“What isn’t?” Dave asked.
“That they had a description of the girl,” I answered. “As far as I am aware the seers give a location, perhaps something descriptive about the area, but not a physical description of the Slayer.”
“Are you sure?” Dave asked sharply.
I was as certain as I could be, but not completely so. It was entirely possible that there were times when the seers were able to describe the Slayer.
“Not entirely, no,” I admitted. “My position does not require me to work with Slayers, so I am not privy to all the information the seers would give to Watchers seeking Slayers in the field. It is entirely possible that they do and that those of us who have other tasks are left in the dark for security reasons.”
“Do you think that’s likely?”
The tentative question told me that I had managed to plant a seed of doubt in Dave’s mind about Mr. Harris. I hadn’t intended to do so, mostly because I didn’t expect that I would be successful. Yet, somehow, I had managed to do just that. I could see nothing but a benefit for myself.
Still the niggling mystery remained. If Dave was to be believed, Mr. Harris had gently herded Dave into the world of Slayers and Watchers almost from the moment that Mr. Harris had saved the man from a gruesome fate. Why he did it, I could not say.
“No, I don’t think it’s terribly likely that I’d be left in the dark on such an issue,” I finally said. “I must allow that it’s entirely possible and that, if it were, there are some very good reasons for it.”
“Fair enough.” Dave seemed somewhat satisfied with my answer.
I suspected that Mr. Harris would be forced into a most uncomfortable discussion with his man. My off-the-cuff attempt water the seed of doubt suddenly seemed like a tactical error. If Dave had the opportunity to speak to Mr. Harris at length, Mr. Harris would surely know that my intentions were not entirely benign. If it happened, my only hope was to turn the tables on Mr. Harris for not being completely honest with his people.
“Well, back to my dream girl,” Dave continued. “Harris makes me repeat the dreams over and over again. He’d interrupt with all these questions. Mostly focusing on some really small detail or the other.”
“Oh, things like: Was it morning or evening? Was the sun rising or setting? Was it hot or cold? What did the rocks look like? Were there other houses? What did the other houses look like? Were there a lot of people around? Was there anyone else around? What did they look like?”
“That’s odd,” I frowned.
Dave shook his head. “I thought so to at first. I’d insist I didn’t remember. Harris would give up, or seem to, then he’d ask the question again, only he’d ask it a different way. Turns out, that I did know the answers, I just didn’t realize I knew them.”
“This conversation must’ve taken hours,” I remarked.
“And how. By the time we were done talking, it was almost lunch,” Dave said. “Another thing that really threw me was that I was actually hungry.”
“It’s a good sign,” I assured him.
“That’s what Harris said,” Dave agreed. “Anyway, he shouts something over the edge of the roof, and Ally comes up with food for the three of us. I guess she was waiting outside for Harris to be done with me. She hands out the food and she and Harris exchange one of those looks of theirs again and Harris gives her a little nod. So she settles in the corner, and I can feel that all her attention is right on me. I’ve got no clue what she’s looking for, but those eyes of hers are boring right through my skull like she wanted to see what my brain looked like.”
“Very disconcerting,” I remarked.
“Yeah, not that I had time to really worry about it.” Dave paused, although I suspect it was for affect. “Then Harris lays it on me. They’re getting nowhere fast and they really do have to find this girl. They’ve just found a place down in Djenné and were building a camp where girls like Ally and my dream girl could get some basic training in how to fight vampires and demons. Since I knew the area around the escarpment, knew what the girl looked like, and because the locals would talk to me, he was wondering if I was willing to lend a hand.”
“That’s how he brought you in,” I said quietly.
“Hey, it wasn’t that fast,” Dave countered. “Harris was just asking me to help them find her. He wasn’t asking for a lifetime commitment.”
“And if you said no?” I asked.
“Then I said no. We’d shake hands. He and Ally would go their way and I’d go mine. He even offered to give me a lift back to the village where I left all my stuff,” Dave said.
“And after you found the girl?” I asked.
“Then, nothing. I’m free to go. At least, that’s what he said.” Dave looked around. “Not that it worked out that way.”
“Let me guess,” I said. “You found the girl within days.”
“Yeah, that’s about right,” Dave nodded. “I kept remembering all these little details and I realized that everything I remembered pointed right at Banani. It’s one of those decent-sized villages with a steady stream of tourists hiking through. There are trails in that area that let people climb up the cliffs so people can see the ancient Tellem cliff dwellings and check out the view.”
“Prime hunting grounds,” I said.
“Yeah, except no one has ever been attacked in the village itself,” Dave said.
“Why do I suspect that the story changes a few days’ walk from there.”
“Your suspicions would be right on the money,” Dave tapped his nose. “Banani was the eye of the storm in some pretty rough seas. Still is when the local bloodsuckers get frisky.”
My eyebrows rose at this. “The Banani vampires appear to be engaging in tactical thinking.”
“Harris says he’s seen it more than once, and he also says a lot depends on the vampires you’re talking about,” Dave said. “Some vampires are solitary hunters that’ll kill indiscriminately. Some vampires can take the long view and will play nice with others to reach a goal. Most, he says, fall in the mushy middle and will do one or the other, depending on what will give them the biggest payoff. He’s also noticed that if there’s a smaller, stable population living in a rough the natural environment, the vampires are more likely to work together on a hunting plan so they don’t scare everyone away. Compare that to a war zone where there’s a lot of chaos. In those instances, the vampires tend to look out for number one and will hunt indiscriminately.”
“Sounds like he’s giving the beasts human characteristics,” I said with disgust.
“Doesn’t make him wrong, either,” Dave said with a touch of defensiveness. “I’ve seen the same pattern with my own eyes more than once.”
Not wishing to fall on Dave’s bad side, I acceded the point.
“As it turns out, the Banani vampires caught on pretty quickly that if they went on a nightly rampage, they’d scare all the tourists away,” Dave said. “So, they act more like the lions of the Serengeti. If any local or tourist looks like they’d be easy pickings or have something worth stealing, they get marked for death and the second they’re away from the herd, it’s all over.”
I was strangely fascinated. “I must say I am impressed with the level of discipline and cooperation among the Banani vampires. I am not under the impression that it’s a modus operandi for many such bands.”
“Harris was more impressed with the length of time they’d been doing it rather than the fact they were doing it all,” Dave said.
“How long had this been going on?” I asked.
“I found out after me and Kavitha — I’m her Watcher pro tem until Mr. Giles and the Council makes it official, if they make it official — started putting a dent in their population that they’ve been doing it for 20 years or so,” Dave said.
I let out a low whistle.
“They usually stick with tourists as their victims because they usually have better stuff to steal,” Dave continued, warming to a subject with which he was intimately familiar. “They don’t go after local people until the off-season, and even then they spread the hunting out over a dozen villages. They’re pretty careful about covering their tracks, too. You have to take a really good look at the bodies to tell it’s a vampire attack instead a just another unfortunate stumble down the rocky path.”
“Sounds like you have your hands full,” I remarked.
“Oh, we do, we do,” Dave nodded. “But Kavitha, she’s up for, man. We’ve got them on the run, more often then not. There’s a lot of back-and-forth. More than I’d like to be honest. But vampires are like weeds. You pull them out, and more move in. The escarpment is practically an all-you-can-eat buffet because of the tourists, but there’s not a lot you can do about it. People want to see the charming natives in their charming villages and watch them dance with their charming masks. The villages that deal with a lot of tourists are just modern enough and educated enough that they don’t believe in vampires, but not so modern and not so educated that they could mount an effective counter-defense to drive them out even if they did believe in them.”
“Sounds like perfect hunting grounds,” I agreed.
“That’s why Harris is going to send a couple of girls down if the Council decides they want to interview me so they can cover while we’re away.”
I shook my head. I couldn’t have possibly heard that correctly. “‘We?’”
“Yeah, they want to see how Kavitha and I work together,” Dave said. “Mr. Giles said it was part of the application process.”
It most certainly was not, but then again, I highly doubted that the Council ever had any applicants from people who were already acting as Watchers to Slayers in the field. Most likely, Dave’s situation was unique and Mr. Giles had adjusted accordingly.
Yet, Dave’s revelation — just the latest of so many I had received in the course of our conversation — caused yet another suspicious tickle in the back of mind. Why, I couldn’t say. I shoved it aside and promised myself to think more on it later.
“This I’ve got to tell you, though.” Dave leaned forward with beatific smile. “I’ve got to tell you how I met Kavitha.”