THE FAMILY THAT SLAYS TOGETHER
BOOK 2: CALL TO BATTLE
LYLE FRANCIS PADILLA
(AKA "Mad Tom")
"So that's what a Bringer looks like," Tony said as he looked at the nearest robed figure with its hieroglyphic eyelids and the nearby knife identical to Dawn's.
"Now you know!" Dawn nodded.
"I thought we were done with these bastards!" Buffy said numbly.
"Obviously not," Tony said.
"Yeah," Dawn said. "We drove The First into remission when we-- when Spike collapsed the Hellmouth, but..."
"...but we'll never destroy it," Buffy finished for her. She shook herself out of her shock. "Check the rest of the house for any survivors. Try not to touch anything and not to leave footprints!"
The three of them trod lightly around the five corpses and the pools and splatters of blood. The teenage girl had multiple stab and slash wounds to her trunk and arms. One of the Bringers near her had what was apparently its own knife sticking out of its chest, and the third Bringer lay on the girl's other side next to a bloody battleaxe, its head twisted to a nearly impossible angle.
"She was obviously our girl," Dawn said. "Took these two with her. Guess the guy with the axe was the one who killed her dad."
They shot a glance into the dining room and saw it was untouched as they walked past it, then stepped down the hallway, where multiple sets of footprints in blood went in both directions. The first door they passed appeared to be the bedroom of a boy, perhaps in his pre-teens or early teens, decorated with soccer equipment and posters; the door was open but the room undisturbed except for the bedding as though the occupant had rushed out of bed in a hurry. The next door, also opened, led to the bedroom of what appeared to be a teenage girl, again undisturbed except for the bedding. Across the hall from it, the last door had been broken and kicked in like the front door. Inside, a middle-aged woman and a boy of about twelve or thirteen lay sprawled in pools of their own blood from multiple stab wounds.
Buffy stepped carefully around the bloody footprints and squatted down to touch the throats of the woman and boy. "Cold," she turned to Dawn and Tony who remained in the hall. "Been dead at least a couple of hours." She drew a deep breath as she stood, then said, "Let's get out of here. Watch where you step."
They stepped carefully as they headed back to the front door, Buffy still carrying the pruning hook. As they exited, she grabbed a second pruning hook from the tools on the front stoop, then continued toward the car.
"Wait!" Tony said. "You tell us to watch where we step and not to touch anything, then you take a couple of their pruning hooks?"
"We're gonna need weapons!" Buffy explained. "We've got to get to that other girl in Salerno before the Bringers do. Actually, I'd rather have taken that battleaxe in there, but I'd hate to take the chance on getting caught with a murder weapon. This is a farm. Nobody's gonna miss a couple of farm tools." She placed the pruning hooks in the trunk after Tony returned the tire iron.
"You think we should call the cops?" Tony asked.
"No!" Buffy and Dawn both said.
"Just asking," he shrugged. "I figure if they ask what we were doing here, I can say I'm a distant cousin who came by to look them up."
"Cousin!" Dawn gasped. "Oh, God! Cyndi and Colette! Buffy, if The First is sending out the Bringers to kill all the new Slayers..."
Buffy gulped. "Oh, God!" She took a couple of deep breaths. "Okay. Tony, you drive! Get us to Salerno the quickest way possible. Dawn, get your computer up. If you can find a Hi-Fi connection..."
"WiFi," Dawn corrected.
"Whatever! If you can find a connection while we're enroute, go online and book a flight for yourself and Tony back to LA. The earliest one possible."
They opened the doors to the car and Dawn scrambled into the back seat where she opened up her iBook and booted it up, while Buffy sat up front. Tony took the wheel and headed it down the driveway.
There was no way out. There were at least eighteen of the hooded figures encircling her, all of them with eyelids branded shut with strange markings, and all carrying weapons: some with curve-bladed knives, others with long wooden poles of the type Robin Hood and his Merry Men used-- she couldn't remember the term-- and others with ancient-looking double-bladed axes. She knew that there was no "surrendering" to them, that they meant to kill her and nothing else. Her only chance of living through this was to fight, and although she'd had her share of fights in the tomboy phase of her childhood, she'd long since outgrown that. Still, something overcame her: rage, weariness of running in fear, an adrenaline rush, perhaps a combination of all three.
As she lunged toward the nearest figure that had one of the long poles, the entire world seemed to go into slow motion. As the figure swung the pole toward her head, she intercepted it with a firm grasp, swung around and incredibly lifted her attacker off his feet. His momentum and her swing sent him headlong into another one of the robed figures that had been on her other side, and miraculously impaled the first figure on the knife of the second. As the dying attacker let go of his end of the pole, she continued swinging it around and connected with the skull of a third attacker, sending him flying limply backward.
A fourth attacker swung his axe at her and she quickly parried it with the pole, with enough force to knock the axe from his hands and flip it into the air. She managed to catch it by the handle in midair and, to her own disbelief, use the axe to slash the throat of its former owner. Swinging the axe in her right hand and the pole in her left, she managed to slash the throat of one more attacker and break a hole in the cordon they had formed around her, and she began to sprint away from them and back up the street toward the bus station.
She turned her head slightly as she ran and saw she was gaining ground on the remaining attackers, but not by much. As she ran about a block, she saw three more figures dimly lit by the streetlights, ahead and running toward her. She braced herself and positioned the pole and axe for another fight when the three figures-- whom she now saw were dark-clad but not in hooded robes-- spread out across the width of the street. They each dropped to one knee, unslung crossbows from across their backs, and shot them before she was anywhere close enough to do anything with her own two newly obtained weapons.
I'm dead! she thought before realizing that the three people in front of her hadn't aimed at her. The crossbow bolts whizzed past her and she heard the dull thuds of objects striking flesh behind her, followed by some short grunts and gasps. "It's okay! We're friends!" one of the crossbow shooters yelled. It was a woman's voice.
She continued toward the three figures as they reloaded their weapons and fired another volley into the pursuing crowd behind her. She reached them as they dropped their crossbows and drew swords from scabbards behind their backs and charged into the now diminished mob of her attackers. She saw that the three were two young women, both with dark brown hair, and a tall, lean black man with a mustache, goatee and shaved head. She turned back and followed them as each of them ran his or her sword through the abdomen of an attacker, the man killing a knife-wielder and the two women blocking the axes of their opponents with their free hands. That left five of the robed figures still standing, and they were starting to run when the two women caught up to two of them and stabbed them in the backs with their swords. The man then reached down and picked up the knife of the attacker he had just killed and threw it into the back of one of the remaining three runners who had managed to get some distance from them. The two women then took the axes they'd grabbed and threw them squarely into the backs of the last two robed figures.
"I think we got 'em all," the man said.
"Bringers!" the shorter of the two young women sighed. "I thought we were done with these bastards!"
The three of them turned toward the girl, who dropped to her knees and was now shaking and crying, dropping the battleaxe and quarter staff she'd been carrying.
The taller of the women knelt and took the girl in her arms, slipping off the girl's backpack and stroking her back. "It's okay. You're safe now. You're among friends."
The girl sobbed loudly and continued to shake for several seconds before calming down enough to pull back and study their faces. "I... I know you!" she whispered. "All of you! I've seen you in my dreams. In... in Sunnydale, California where they had the earthquake!"
"Yeah," the taller woman nodded as she helped her stand. "I'm Faith..." she indicated the shorter young woman, "this is Kennedy..." then indicated the man, "... and this is Robin."
"How did you find me here?"
"We work with a network of Wiccan covens in Europe," Faith explained. "A few of the members are seers. It's the middle of the night over there, but one of the seers in Devon, England woke up from a dream and called us about half an hour ago. Said a new Slayer was here in Cleveland and that she was going to be attacked on this street tonight."
"You were damned lucky on two counts," Robin said. "One, that the seer had the dream about you at all, and two, that we live here in Cleveland and could do something about it."
"Yeah," the girl smiled. "Thanks. I'm Leslie. Leslie Mac--"
"Leslie MacKenzie?" Faith's eyebrows raised. "From Knutsford, Ontario?"
"Yes!" she gasped. "My gosh! How did you know?"
"The covens identified you as a Slayer pretty early on by using locator spells," Kennedy replied. "I was about to pay you a visit in Knutsford a week ago, but then you started moving around on us!"
"A bunch of these guys were about to attack me back home," Leslie nodded toward the dead Bringers, "so I ran from them. Something I remembered from my dreams told me to head for Sunnydale, or what's left of it, and to stop here in Cleveland on the way." She paused and squinted. "A Slayer. That's a word I remember from my dreams." She looked at her rescuers. "What's a Slayer, and why do these people want to kill me?"
Faith picked up Leslie's backpack, and the girl shuddered again as she noticed the deep slash that ran diagonally across it.
They started up the street, and then Robin nodded toward the white Pontiac parked just around the next corner. "Come home with us and we'll tell you everything."
"In every generation," Faith began, "there is a Chosen One. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer." She smiled at Leslie. "Or at least that's how it all started..."
"Watcher's Council," the voice answered.
"Hi, Mrs. Nicely, it's Buffy," she said into her cell phone. "This is an emergency! I need to talk to Giles immediately!"
They were still on the back road, headed for the freeway that went toward Salerno.
"Just a moment, Buffy," Mrs. Nicely said. "Seems like there's emergencies popping up everywhere. He and Edward have been on the phones all morning since before the support staff showed up, and Harry Tewksbury just showed up about twenty minutes ago."
"What kind of emer--" Buffy started before she heard the phone being put on hold. Fortunately, it lasted only a couple of seconds, not long enough for her to get agitated.
"Buffy!" Giles said breathlessly. "Vivian just said you have an emergency. What's happening? Where are you?"
"Giles, we just left the olive farm in Tivoli that belongs to Isabella Colossi's family. The whole family's been killed by Bringers, including Isabella. Looks like The First is still active."
"Yes. Robin Wood called me at home about an hour and a half ago. They'd gotten a call from Bridget in Devon. She'd had a vision that a new Slayer had arrived in Cleveland and that she was about to be attacked, but she didn't know by what. Robin, Faith and Kennedy found her just as she was being attacked by eighteen Bringers. Fortunately she's all right and between the four of them, they were able to kill them all. The girl turned out to be Leslie, the one from Ontario, Canada."
"Well, our girl here in Tivoli wasn't so lucky," Buffy sighed.
"Tell Giles I think the same thing may have happened to the girl in Austria," Tony spoke up.
"Tell Tony I heard him," Giles replied.
"He heard you," Buffy nodded.
"Anyway," Giles continued, "I called Robson and Harry immediately to meet me here at the office. Then I called Cleveland back to get more details, trying to determine if this was an isolated occurrence because of the Hellmouth there. Then about half an hour ago, Willow called. She, Xander and Andrew found our South African Slayer dead in her home near Pretoria. With three dead Bringers."
"At least some of these girls are taking some of the Bringers with them," Buffy said grimly. "It looks like Isabella and her dad took three of them with them."
"That's not a good trade," Giles said.
"I know," Buffy said. "Anyway, we're on the road to Salerno to try to get to the other Italian girl before the Bringers do. I don't know if we're following the same band of Bringers around Europe or if The First is converting Bringers locally."
"We never found that out when they were killing the Potentials," Giles said. "It doesn't matter much. In retrospect it was rather stupid of us to assume that all these Bringers were neutralized and roaming around blind just because we closed down the Sunnydale Hellmouth." He sounded quite disgusted with himself.
"Giles, as soon as we find this girl Rosanna in Salerno, I'm sending Dawn and Tony back to LA to make sure our cousins are safe. I'll stay on in Rome and try to get things organized. We'll use the coven house as a gathering point like we planned."
"I may join you there, depending on the situation," Giles said. "In the meantime, now that we've established that this is a worldwide problem, I'm going to call everyone and warn them as to what's going on. Now that most of the Slayers who were with us in Sunnydale are by themselves and visiting their families, The First may start picking them off as well as the ones we're trying to recruit. We should speed up our schedule in assembling the teams and rounding up the newly identified Slayers."
"Okay, you do that. I'm gonna call my Aunt Polly and my cousins right now. I only hope to God it's not too late!"
Buffy hung up and then dialed the international prefix and the McDades' number. After a few seconds of faint connection tones, she got a ringing signal. "Good, it's ringing," she breathed. "At least the Bringers haven't cut the lines, I think. Come on, Aunt Polly... Uncle Matt... Cyndi... anybody?" Her heart sank as she closed the cell phone. "Dammit! Eight rings and no answer!"
"They could just all not be home," Dawn said hopefully as she looked up from her iBook.
"They don't even have an answering machine!" Buffy said. "Don't they know this is the Twenty-first Century?"
"They've got E-Mail," Dawn shrugged. "Only I can't find a WiFi connection."
"Unfortunately, the Italian WiFi system is a little bit behind their cell phone system," Tony said. "They're planning on eventually making the whole freeway system a subscriber WiFi zone, but that's a couple of years down the road."
"Dawn," Buffy said, "get a message ready. Tell them exactly what's happening, don't hold anything back. Tell them to get ready for an attack. As soon as you get a connection, send it."
"Okay," Dawn nodded, then added sarcastically, "Aunt Polly's gonna love this!" She opened the E-Mail application and started typing.
"I know," Buffy nodded. "You and Willow did everyone's itinerary. Are any of our girls still in Southern California?"
"Not unless you count Chao Ahn," Dawn shook her head.
Buffy sighed and rolled her eyes, then asked, "Isn't Caridad from Riverside?"
"Yeah, but she's hanging out with Colleen and her folks in Montana. The cabin fever and claustrophobia in Sunnydale got to everybody. I think the nearest of our girls to Aunt Polly's is Denise in Oregon."
"Do your cousins have anything to fight with?" Tony asked.
"I seem to remember Uncle Matt owns a handgun," Dawn said. "Colette and Eric are both on baseball teams, so they've probably got some bats, and Cyndi plays tennis, so she's got a racket."
"Not much, except for the handgun," Tony said. "At least the late Signore Colossi showed us that firearms will work against Bringers."
"Well, don't underestimate a baseball bat in Colette's hands!" Dawn managed a smile. "And hopefully, their fighting instincts as Slayers will kick in."
"Hopefully," Buffy repeated. After a few seconds' silence, she said, "Tony, you were right. We should've touched base with Isabella when we passed Tivoli on the way in to Rome last week. She and her family would still be alive if we had."
"You couldn't have known that!" Tony answered. "None of us could've!"
"This is all my fault," Buffy shook her head. "All of it! If we hadn't activated all the Potentials, all these girls would still be unidentified Potentials. Willow's spell turned on a beacon in each of them saying to The First and the Bringers, 'Hey! Come and kill me!'"
"No," Dawn sighed, "Willow's spell allowed us to kill all the Turok-Hans, close the Sunnydale Hellmouth and save the world!"
"Spike did that with the amulet," Buffy shook her head. "We just stirred up the hornet's nest and swatted a few hornets."
"Buffy, don't beat yourself up over this!" Dawn said.
"Dawn, you helped Willow and Giles come up with the activation spell. Could we reverse it?"
"And do what?" Dawn didn't try to hide her exasperation. "Leave all these girls still identified to the Bringers with no strength or skills to defend themselves? There's no turning back!"
"Buffy," Tony said gently, "this is a war. Just like the war I was in up until a couple of months ago. In a war, you make decisions with the best information you have. If you make mistakes-- and I don't think you really have-- you learn from them and continue the mission. Or move on to the next mission. Don't waste your time and your emotional energy on 'What if?'!"
"Okay," Buffy managed a smile. "Out of the mouths of rookies!"
"Rookie my ass!" Tony glowered at her. "Different kind of war, same basic principles!"
The main highway from Rome to Naples was named Autostrada del Sole-- Sunshine Freeway-- but while it had indeed been warm and sunny when they got on from Tivoli, a cold front had moved in from the Mediterranean by the time they reached Naples, bringing steady rain and dark skies despite the noon hour. As Tony turned the car onto the ramp for the highway to Salerno, there were flashes of lightning adding to their sense of foreboding, which had already been exacerbated by Buffy's redialing the McDades' number every twenty minutes or so throughout the drive with no answer, plus Dawn's frustration at her lack of success at finding a WiFi hot spot. Had it been a normal tourist trip, they would have marveled at the sight of Mount Vesuvius as they drove right past it, and probably would have stopped. As it was, the event got only a cursory comment from Tony and absent nods from the two sisters.
The information gathered on the new Slayer they sought was that her name was Rosanna Scaperotto and that she lived in a resort town on Salerno Bay named Cancello del Mare, a few miles past the city of Salerno proper. They had no problem following the Mapquest directions from the freeway to the address the seers and locator spells had determined, and ended up in front of a three-story quadrangle apartment building reminiscent of the Coven house where they were staying in Rome, although somewhat newer.
It was still raining, darkly overcast and thunderous as they got out of the Mercedes, popped the trunk and retrieved the two pruning hooks, Buffy and Tony each taking one while Dawn took the tire iron and drew her knife. It was a rather conspicuous and impossible to conceal display of odd weaponry, but fortunately, the rains had emptied the street of people. Buffy took the lead as they stepped into the main vestibule, looked at the names on the mailboxes and found "R. Scaperotto" on what appeared to be a second floor number. They were just past halfway up the first flight of stairs when they started hearing the all too familiar sounds of grunts, thuds, and the crashes of furniture falling over somewhere above them.
"Oh, God!" Buffy gasped as they sprinted the rest of the way up the flight, followed the noise around a corner of the second floor hallway, then ran toward the only open door just as they heard glass shattering followed by the rapid succession of a half dozen or more distant heavy thuds.
Buffy led them through the door, which had been kicked in like the farmhouse in Tivoli, and they found the living room of the apartment in a similar shambles. But this time, the only bodies inside were the ones in hooded robes: three of them, all newly dead of knife wounds. One held a double-bladed battleaxe, but both blades were clean. Past the dining area in the back, a sliding glass door that led onto a small balcony had been smashed outward. The three of them rushed across, through the disintegrated door pane and onto the balcony, in time to see three of the Bringers disappear under an archway in a far corner of the courtyard below. Another dead Bringer lay on top of broken glass directly below them.
"She's still alive!" Buffy breathed. "Let's go!"
The young woman passed through the archway and into the alley between her own apartment building and the next. She turned toward the street and had gone a few feet when she saw that four more of the hooded figures had gone through another archway and headed her off. The other three that had followed her through the other archway were even closer.
She still held the larger portion of a quarter-staff she'd wrested from one of them; it had snapped in two when she used it to break her fall when she leaped from her balcony. In desperation, she hurled it at her nearest pursuer, and didn't wait to see it impale her target in the chest. Instead, she leaped up and grabbed the bottom of the railing to the balcony of the nearest second floor apartment. As her pursuers arrived below her, she pulled herself up out of their reach, climbed to the top of the railing and reached for the railing to the third floor balcony. The still-steady rains made both her footing and her grasp difficult, while her attackers were working in concert, two of them boosting the others up from ground level. She'd managed to pull herself up clear of the second floor balcony as two of the hooded figures pulled themselves over its railing.
She then stood on the third floor railing, leaped and grabbed the edge of the roof with both hands. She started to pull herself up when a hand reached down from the roof, grabbed her right wrist and started pulling her up. In desperation, she raked the fingernails of her left hand deeply into the forearm of the person grabbing her.
"Ow! Sonofabitch!" a man's voice yelled as the hand let her go. She dropped and grabbed the rain gutter, but it quickly broke free from the roof due to her weight and she dropped back to the balcony, cold rainwater from the gutter drenching her already wet clothes.
She turned and looked downward to see two more pairs of hands grabbing the bottom of the balcony railing, then saw the tops of two hooded heads slowly rising. She turned back to the roof to see the head and shoulders of a young man with short dark hair as he extended both his hands down toward her.
"Venuto con me se desiderate vivere!" he said calmly and firmly. It was the same man whose arm she'd scratched, but now his voice was deeper and had a strange, affectatious accent. But she had no time to think about it. She jumped up with her hands outstretched, and as his hands caught her right forearm, a second pair of hands caught her left and she felt herself being pulled up onto the roof.
As she scrambled the rest of the way, she saw that her other rescuer was a teenage girl with long dark hair, and next to her was a blonde woman in her early twenties. They looked enough alike to be sisters, but she already knew that from something in the recesses of her recent strange dreams.
"Mille grazie!" she said as she caught her breath, then rose to her feet along with them as they attended to the activities below them.
Buffy held the battleaxe she'd taken from the dead Bringer in the apartment, while Tony picked up one of the pruning hooks. Dawn picked up the other pruning hook and handed it to the Italian girl, then drew her knife and picked up the tire iron.
The six Bringers scrambled up onto the roof simultaneously from three different points: the balcony from which the Italian girl had climbed, the balcony of the apartment next door, and another balcony from the courtyard side.
"Hi, guys!" Buffy said with a wicked grin as she stepped over to the two nearest Bringers, then summarily decapitated both with two strokes of the battleaxe as they pulled themselves up. She glanced over to check on her sister, who had calmly stepped over to the other two Bringers who were coming up on the alley side and smoothly smashed the tire iron into the face of one Bringer and plunged her knife into the back of the other and withdrew it. All four bodies slid off the roof with the two decapitated heads rolling along with them. A second later, they heard the thuds of the six objects hitting the cobblestones in the alley at the same rhythm.
They then rushed over to the courtyard side where Tony and the Italian girl faced off against the remaining two Bringers, who had managed to make it on their feet and were going for their knives. Both Tony and the girl unhesitatingly swung their pruning hooks at them, the girl's blade connecting with the trunk of her opponent and Tony hitting his opponent's throat. The two Bringers fell back into the courtyard with emphatic thuds.
"Hey, my physics prof was right!" Buffy smiled. "Objects really do fall at the same rate regardless of mass!"
"Did we get 'em all?" Tony asked
"Yeah," Dawn nodded. "We counted seven in the alley, she got one down there, we got six up here."
"'Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak man say, "I am a warrior"'" Tony smiled at his weapon, then turned to the two sisters. "Sorry! Can't help it. Twelve years of parochial school!"
Dawn turned to the Italian girl and smiled. "Bongiorno! Presumiamo che siete Rosanna Scaperotto!"
"Yes," she smiled back. "I'm Rosanna. And I speak English. I studied it for six years. In the summer, I work as a concierge at the Hotel Merenda here in Cancello del Mare. Lots of American and British tourists."
"Oh, good!" Buffy smiled. "Hi, Rosanna. My name is Buf--"
"I know who you are!" she nodded. "I've had dreams about you the last few weeks. You are Buffy Summers, the Chosen One! And you are her sister, Dawn Summers." She turned to Tony. "You, I don't know. But I'm sorry I scratched your arm!"
"It's okay. I'm Tony Vincenzo."
"Boy!" Buffy sighed. "I had the dreams when I was first called. And this Slayer dream stuff still creeps me out!"
"But how is it that you're still alive if I am now the Chosen One?" Rosanna looked at her.
"Good question!" Buffy replied. "Let's get in out of the rain and we'll explain it to you."
They walked along the roof toward Rosanna's apartment.
"You okay?" Dawn asked Tony as she held his hand. "This is your first killing up close and personal."
"Yeah," he nodded. "They say killing a man while you're looking into his eyes is way different from long-range combat. Unfortunately, I'll never get to test that theory with this bunch." He laughed.
"Oh, yeah," Dawn looked at him and giggled. "Venuto con me se desiderate vivere! I can't believe you actually said that!"
"And I actually managed to throw in an Austrian accent!" he smirked.
Buffy looked at them "Oh, yeah! What's 'Menudo con me--' what he said?"
"Come with me if you want to live!" Dawn, Tony and Rosanna all chorused.
All Italian and other foreign language phrases in my works are courtesy of Babelfish and Altavista, and I apologize for their inaccuracies if any.
Tony's Biblical quote is from Joel 4:10 in the Catholic Bible or Joel 3:10 in the Protestant Bibles (the discrepancies being in the way the chapters were numbered).
Please keep the reviews coming. I'm going to try and get at least one more chapter in before I go back to work in September.