I expected some of you to be calling "dickhead" on Xander for pulling what he did on Eva, but the level of anger directed at the guy took me by complete suprise.
I'm in total shock. Seriously. But then again, it could be because I know (and have already written however roughly, by the way) Xander's motivations. Although, I'm not entirely sure that the angrier readers are going to be completely mollified because, yeah, Eva is still forced into a position she really hates.
All I ask is that you keep one thing in mind: Eva at the outset of this story not only warned you that something like this was coming, she also said that Xander double-crossed Giles and that he did it in such a way that Giles couldn't (or didn't) do a damn thing about it.
I'm not upset by the reaction, mind you. Just jaw-droppingly shocked. I admit though, I'm actually kind of thrilled by it. I must be doing something right because all the points raised have actually be answered in the mess I've got on my hard drive. So, thank you everyone for the FB (even if I didn't answer any in the last part) because you're at least telling me I'm heading in the right direction.
The reason why I haven't responded to FB on the last part is because that would require me giving away the end and I don't want to do that because I'm rather proud of it. I won't say anything, except to say that the story and Eva, in a very strange way, comes full circle.
If you're interested, I did post a general response here. Unfortunately, I really have to leave it as the last word for now. Like I said, I don't really want to give anything away.
For the Scatterlings and Orphanages Africander Fiction Challenge by ludditerobot.
For all previous parts, go here.
Continued from Part 40.
Dave shook his head and turned to leave. Grandmother Touré paused just long enough to grin her toothless grin and waggle a finger at me, as if I was the one who had been naughty, before she, too, exited behind Mr. Harris’s stalwart man.
Left alone at long last, I finally gave in to my impulses and let my brave mask drop.
I put my face in my hands and sobbed.
Despite my emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion, I did not sleep at all that night. I told myself at the time that I wanted to watch my jailors for an opportunity to escape, especially if it could be accomplished with a minimum of violence so as to limit my chances of being sent to the Highlands Facility if I failed in my mission.
What I wasn’t willing to admit to myself at the time, dear reader, is that I feared dreaming. I’m not entirely sure which dream would’ve have frightened me more: reliving my disastrous battle in Joe, or one in which that ancient Slayer and her skull-like mask stalked me to the ends of the earth.
I spent the night pacing from window to window as I studied my physical conundrum from every possible angle. There were never any less than nine Slayers surrounding my hut at any given time, three for the side of the hut with the door, two for every other side. Every few hours, a fresh trio would arrive in the company of Mr. Harris and Alexandrienne and replace three of the girls.
There seemed to be a little bit of a ritual in this changing of the guard. Mr. Harris would go from girl to girl and exchange a few soft words with them on an individual basis in the village’s chosen language. Alexandrienne would follow and distribute water and a snack to each girl. As she did this, she, too, exchanged words with her sisters. Unlike Mr. Harris’s conversations, however, her discussions had a gossipy and giggly girlish tone to them.
At several points I thought sure I saw Mr. Harris glance in my direction, as if he knew I was watching him. The threat of feeling his eye on me always prompted my retreat away from the window.
I should note: although Alexandrienne did not once take a turn at standing sentry, I suspected she got far less sleep than her sisters as she was always in Mr. Harris’s company when he made his rounds. The most extraordinary thing about this was that I couldn’t detect any resentment from the others over this exemption. If anything, the other girls treated her as an equal, as if they understood that she was required to perform different duties just by virtue of who her Watcher was.
Throughout the whole night and dawn, I continued to ignore Grandmother Touré’s food, despite the fact that I became increasingly hungry as time ticked by. This earned me quite a scolding from the old woman when she returned to my hut, this time in the company of Bunmi, when the sun broke free of the horizon and began its long climb to the zenith.
Not that I could understand a blasted word that woman said.
The most I could do was haughtily, albeit with a heavy exhaustion, stare at her as she chattered and jabbered in her mysterious dialect. Once she was done giving me a piece of her mind, she put down a fresh tray of food, waggled a finger at me to remind me that in her eyes I was a naughty child as was her wont, and removed the untouched tray from my presence.
Sometime after that, exhaustion overtook me and I fell into a deep, dreamless sleep. I remained blessedly insensible to my evolving peril until a light noise startled me and I leapt out of bed.
“Whoa!” Dave hollered as he dove between myself and Grandmother Touré, who was now laden with yet another tray of food. “Didn’t mean to wake you. We were just bringing lunch.”
Lunch? I fuzzily wondered. How long had I slept?
“Doc poked his nose in earlier to check on you, but he thought it was better to let you sleep. He figured that with your state of mind, he’d end up triggering those famous Slayer reflexes that send you guys from 0 to 60 in 0.25 seconds,” Dave said as Grandmother Touré relieved herself of her burden.
I dumbly blinked at Dave as my sleepy mind finally caught up with my awake body.
“Glad you finally zonked out because you looked like you really needed the sleep last night,” Dave remarked with a nod toward my bed. “You look a lot better. How are you feeling?”
I pointedly didn’t answer the question as I stalked over to the tiny mirror to study my distorted image.
Personally, I thought I looked rather awful, although I had to admit that the presence of bandages probably made me look far worse than my condition warranted. What bruises, cuts, and scrapes were uncovered seemed both fewer in number and less severe than they had been before I finally succumbed to my need for sleep. Fascinated by this, I leaned forward to take a closer look. I wasn’t entirely sure, but I could’ve sworn that my skin was knitting together before my very eyes.
“Don’t tell me you’ve never been really hurt before,” Dave said with disbelief.
I was so taken by what was then an unusual sight that I started to answer. “Not since I became—” I stopped when I realized that I had gone back on my vow to freeze out Dave.
Behind me, I heard Dave address Grandmother Touré. “Hey, Moms? Think you can leave me and Eva alone?”
I turned around in surprise at this request, just in time for Grandmother Touré to put up a fuss about it.
Dave held up his hands and said, “It’ll be fine. She won’t hurt me, okay? I just want to do a little chin wagging.”
Clearly Grandmother Touré got the gist, if not the precise meaning, of Dave’s words. She shot me a warning look, one that told me that if I harmed a hair on the man’s head, she would make certain that I would suffer long before Mr. Harris or any of his Slayers had a chance to make me pay.
Dave reached out and touched the old woman on the shoulder. “Moms, I’ll be fine.”
She smiled up at Dave and patted him affectionately on the arm. She spared me one more glance, sniffed, took up my untouched breakfast, and departed.
“You’ve got to be hungry,” Dave urged. “You haven’t eaten anything since last night and I know Slayers eat like locusts after Slaying. You’ve got to be ready to eat your own fist by now.”
My stomach growled in agreement, but I pointedly strode over to the bed and sat on the edge of it without saying a word.
Dave sighed. “Fine. Be that way. But I’m not walking out of here until I’ve talked to you. Now, you can sit there and say nothing, or you can start throwing things at my head. I don’t care. But one way or the other, you’re going to listen to me.”
I’m fairly certain I glared at him.
“No one’s happy about this,” Dave said. “And when I mean no one, I mean no one. Even Harris isn’t in love with the situation, and he was the one that came up with the plan.”
I snorted my disbelief.
“Look, I don’t get the whole politics of whatever is happening in London, but I do know that everything’s in flux right now,” Dave said. “I also know that the existence of this village is still pretty much a secret and that Mr. Giles and his people have been covering as best they could, but questions about what Harris is doing down here has been cropping up more and more often. Mr. Giles knows that sooner or later he’s got to come clean and take ownership of what Harris is doing, but he’s trying to time it so the announcement breaks in his favor instead of against him. Well, you’d know that part because here you are, right?”
I pointedly looked at my fingernails and studied them as if I were contemplating getting a manicure.
“I guess you kind of stumbled in the middle of whatever tug-of-war is going on between the factions, because I think Mr. Giles’s plan is to use you to discredit the other side,” Dave helplessly continued. “At least that’s what I got from Harris. Sort of. All I know is that he was pissed as all hell when he talked to me about it. I kind of had to piece things together on my own while he ranted and raved about Mr. Giles putting him in a really shitty position. From the start of this mess, Harris hated the idea he’d have to screw you over like this.”
So much for Mr. Harris’s vaunted statements about there being no such thing as ‘no choice,’ I thought as I began to study a spot on the far wall. It appeared such sentiments applied to other people, but when the chips were down, he was more than happy to take refuge in the same excuse.
“The truth of the matter is that Harris was under orders to not only catch you in the act of being a Slayer, but to come up with irrefutable proof so you couldn’t deny it after he shipped you back to the Council,” Dave continued.
While I was bloody curious why Mr. Giles himself hadn’t confronted me about the fact that I had the Slayer power and that Mr. Wyndham-Pryce was using me before I left London, I wasn’t about to give Dave the satisfaction of asking what he knew about the matter.
“And this whole thing with the Gao vampires,” Dave jerked his head toward the door to indicate the world outside, “just kinda fell into his lap. The original plan was to sweet-talk you into visiting Kavitha and me in Banani. While he was bringing you down so you could ‘inspect’ my operation, we were supposed to catch a vampire for the sole purpose of your cage match. After you got there, we’d engineer a little emergency, send you out with stake, and catch you fighting it on tape.”
I was a little less-than-pleased to hear that not only was Mr. Harris a devious bastard, but that he was also flexible enough to be a first-class opportunist.
“Trust me when I tell you, be glad that this Gao thing came up,” Dave said with assurance. “If you thought Joe was bad, fighting for your life while running up and down the cliffs of the Bandigara Escarpment would’ve been a whole lot worse. At least the ground’s level in Joe. There’s no place for a vampire to dropkick you off the edge of a 50-foot drop.”
That definitely earned Dave a violent glare from me.
“Anyway, he actually found out that the Gao vampires were planning a big party minutes after Sister Ig left for Djenné with Ally and Radar so they could catch a bus to Bamako and meet you. I guess Miri and Jamina gave him the big head’s up after one of their informants clued them in that something was brewing and that the spate of problems we’d been seeing were all connected back to what we did a few months ago. I had to leave Kavitha back in Banani to deal with the mini-crisis with the white foxes and haul ass up here to help Harris out,” Dave said. “The rest you mostly know.”
The mention of his Slayer’s name was enough to get me to speak. “And how is your Slayer?” I sweetly asked. “I trust that she will remain safe and whole until your return.”
To my utter surprise, my barb completely missed its mark and Dave grinned. “She’s humming along just fine. Misses me, which isn’t a big surprise, but she gets that I had to lend Harris a hand.”
My eyebrows rose at this. I had been under the impression that telephonic communication was difficult at best outside the large cities and towns.
Dave obviously read my expression. His grin broadened and he tapped his temple. “I’m never alone in here. If she were hurt, I’d know it. Trust me. And there’d be shit-all anyone could do to stop me from running back to her.”
My jaw dropped. “Just how intimate is this connection of yours?” I asked in disbelief.
Dave sobered. “You can’t even begin to guess.”
My eyebrows lowered as I frowned at him in confusion. Curiosity won out over my vow of silence. “That doesn’t answer my question.”
Dave looked troubled. “If you’re asking me why Ally doesn’t know about this Sunnydale place, I don’t have an answer. I thought she knew everything and had been playing it cool so she wouldn’t give too much of what she knew away, but I had this conversation with her yesterday that made me kind of doubt that. Then there was the meeting right after that. She sure looked surprised about a few things that were brought up, didn’t she?”
I startled. The answer was not at all what I had expected, even though it did answer my question satisfactorily enough.
Dave shook his head. “Either he can block her somehow, or she agreed not to go digging around anything that he marked off-limits. I’m going with the later instead of the former on that because there’s no way—”
“Are you telling me that your Kavitha knows everything about you?” I interrupted.
Dave blinked. “It’s not a sudden thing. It just kind of happens over time.”
“Or perhaps you’ve been lied to yet again,” I pointed out. “Perhaps Mr. Harris isn’t like you and—”
“Oh, he is alright,” Dave interrupted.
“But—” I began.
“Trust me, Eva,” Dave interrupted. “One thing we can do is recognize each other, although get enough of us together in one spot and someone will get lost in the crowd because there’s so much signal-to-noise. But one-on-one? Once you figure out how to spot someone like you, there’s no hiding and you can take that to the bank.”
All I could do was stare at Dave in horror. This was yet another twist in the information about these peculiar new Watchers; yet another element that would strike absolute terror into the heart of the Council.
In that moment, I was convinced that once people like Dave became common knowledge to the full membership — no, once they knew just how different people like Dave were from themselves — the reaction would come close to violent, if not actually step over the line into something more sinister.
I can’t tell you how relieved I am that my initial thoughts on this turned out to be wrong. The strength of the pushback from the Old Guard was nowhere near as reactionary as I feared.
Although I suspect there are a number of reasons why the news never sparked a full civil war within the Council.
Mr. Giles remaining Head Watcher — albeit precariously at times — was one factor. The return of Miss Summers to active duty and her stalwart — some might say blind — support for this new paradigm was another. Miss Rosenberg’s forceful — some might say obsessive — defense against any who might decide to put a stop to this new evolution was yet another. Mix these personages with one clever and crafty Ethiopian Wolf and his Slayer, both with a terrifying protective instinct, and…
Dear reader, I leave it to you to decide whether you’d even try to fight fate if it meant you’d also have to fight the four above personages and their allies.
There is always, of course, the issue of numbers to consider. I suspect that by the time enough hoary heads got together to determine what should be done, there were already too many like Mr. Harris and Dave walking the earth. Although these new Watchers — well, Guardians, according to Miss Summers’s immortal friend — have never been the majority, they in current times comprise nearly half of the Council membership. One might say that declaring war on nearly half your people, especially when that half is paired with Slayers who’d take the wholesale murder of their companions rather poorly, is the very definition of “unwise.”
I have no proof of this, but I’m fairly certain there was some thought given in the early days to repeating history. I suppose that if there was any rhyme or reason to how Slayers chose their companions, and if there were any similarities that could be discerned about companions themselves, they might have given it a go. Lord knows that the Council once upon a time did do such a thing and very nearly succeeded.
There are some who might think — because Lord knows no one is brave enough to say it aloud — that it’s rather a pity that those ancient thieves missed a few Guardians and that one of the last managed to hide a magical payload in one mysterious, mystical Scythe that was powerful enough to revive what had been nearly drowned in blood and nearly lost to the mists of time. As for me, I’m rather glad the forefathers of the present Council failed to finish the job. Lord knows we would have been worse off as we marched forward and faced new challenges if the only thing the spell in Sunnydale did was call forth Slayers.
However, I am not a seer nor am I prescient. As I sat there and absorbed what Dave relayed to me, I can only tell you that I was absolutely convinced that of all the clouds on the Council’s horizon, this was the most worrisome.
“Besides,” Dave continued, utterly insensible to my mental tumult, “even if we couldn’t smell each other out, I’d know it just because I’ve worked with Harris and Ally. There’s just no getting away from it, especially with what happened with Li—”
Just a fraction of a second too late, Dave realized he had said too much and his mouth snapped shut.
“Liwaza,” I finished for him.
“I have to go,” Dave suddenly said.
As he spun around to make his escape, I called out, “Wait. Tell me what happened. At least help me understand why Mr. Harris is so protective of the girl.”
I admit, dear reader, that this was a lie. I had guessed that Mr. Harris felt responsible for her condition simply because he’d been in Sunnydale when the die was cast. While that was part of the story, it wasn’t the whole of it, not by a long shot. As for why I asked for the story? I was looking for yet another weapon I could use against Mr. Harris. The bastard had backed me into a corner, I thought, so it was my right to use anything and everything I could against him, even if that weapon was Liwaza.
Dave froze, but he didn’t turn to face me. “Why should I tell you?” he finally asked. “It’s not like you’re in any position to do anything about it.”
Oh, infernal curiosity! There are some things that are better for me not to know. Liwaza and her story most certainly fall into this category.
“I may be disgraced, and I may be accused of any number of crimes real and imagined, but I can still talk,” I said. “Sooner or later, someone is going to believe something I’ve said. Sooner or later, someone is going to start investigating Mr. Harris’s activities and they just might take my statements into account. If you want me to keep quiet about Liwaza, than you best give me a reason for doing so.”
That certainly got Dave to turn around, if only to glare at me. “The last thing you should be doing is making threats.”
The fact that Dave hadn’t walked out told me that, deep down, he did want to talk about it. I’ve learned in the years since that my supposition was correct. Dave’s curiosity had been similarly peaked by what he had recently discovered about his mysterious and secretive friend. He had hoped that I might shed some light on what he had learned thus far, even if it meant breaking the rules and telling me Liwaza’s tragic tale.
In either case, I knew that shoving Dave in the direction I wanted him to go wouldn’t help me. A gentle push was called for. “If you tell me, I’ll eat Grandmother Touré’s food.”
Dave regarded me. “Eat first, then I talk.”
“I’ll eat while you talk,” I counter-offered.
Dave winced. “Not a good idea. You’ll lose your appetite somewhere in the middle.”
“I rather doubt that,” I honestly replied.
For a brief moment Dave seemed torn. He finally broke. “At least you’ll get some food in you.” He glanced at the door. “Good thing we’ve got time,” he added in mutter. “Harris is a little bit busy.”
Reading my notes and the files, no doubt, I thought. I rather viciously hoped that every word he read would cut him deep enough to make him bleed.
“Well, then,” I prompted.
Dave walked over to the tray of food, picked it up, and delivered it to my lap.
My deal had been accepted.
There are days that I rather wished it hadn’t been.TBC...