Reversible Error

Disclaimer: Characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer are property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui Enterprises, Sandollar Television, the WB, and UPN. Other recognizable characters are likewise not ours, but presented with respect and affection.

Part II

“The first thing that we must understand,” Giles went on, “is that we are dealing with two distinct types of new-Chosen.” As Wendell Chu had done, Giles automatically excepted Buffy (Primus, the Slayer Prime) and Faith (Secundus, for several years the ‘actual’ Slayer following Buffy’s various deaths and resurrections), because their service predated the opening-out of the Slayer line; by whatever definition, the term ‘new-Chosen’ most expressly did not apply to them. “The first type is that with which you are most familiar: those young women who were swept up in the first wave of Slayer activation, when Willow accessed the power of the Scythe to call forth that heritage in all who were then eligible for such status. Even among this type, of course, there were two smaller sub-groupings: those with us in the final battle of Sunnydale, who chose to accept that burden in the extremity of facing the First Evil, and all those others around the world who, in that first overwhelming release of power, were granted no more choice than enjoyed by any of the other Slayers who had preceded them throughout the millennia.”

“We know that, Giles.” Buffy’s voice was steady, and very controlled. “And I’ve spent some time feeling guilty over that, but I keep coming back to the same thing: we were fighting the end of the world, and better to have no choice, in a world that’s still there, than to be dead without ever knowing the reason for it.”

“Nor have I ever disagreed with that conclusion,” Giles replied. “At the time, or thereafter. However, I hadn’t yet come to the point. As was first noted by one of the teams trained and tasked by Xander — operating on the Chinese mainland, as it happens — there have been other Slayers called since the initial activation: a trickle, following the deluge of the first wave, the majority of them girls who were too young, nineteen months ago, but who have since matured into eligibility.”

He raised his hand, checking Buffy as she opened her mouth to speak again. “Yes, this also you knew already. But what you almost certainly do not know, for we have only very recently confirmed it, is that those subsequent to the first wave — most, at least, and very probably all — apparently do have a choice in the matter.”

*                *               *

– March 2010 –

It hadn’t always been like this. It shouldn’t be like this now.

It had started with Reika Matsuo being faced with a simple question: Are you ready to be strong? Not so much a question, actually, as a challenge. Reika did want to be strong; that was what she’d been wishing for for ages, striving to be more like Mihu, to be strong like Mihu, to not let herself be bothered so much by what other people said. Reika knew that she was the weak one. She wanted to be the kind of girl that nobody would ever pick on. She didn’t want to be a victim, but didn’t know how to make people treat her differently. She was a mouse, her best friend was a lion, and Reika didn’t know how to be like that. Even so, when asked if she was ready, her answer had been an unhesitating and unthinking, Hai. I am.

Those nine words changed her life forever. They turned her nights into nightmares and her nightmares into ceaseless ordeal. And yet, she wouldn’t go back on her decision for anything, even though she knew that Miharu would have been the better choice.

First came the dreams. Every night, several times a night, she would dream that she was a different girl in a different time, in different battles with different creatures. Even within the bewildering variety, though, there were certain common threads. Each girl was alone, except for one other person watching, sometimes helping. Each girl was strong and fast, but it wasn’t always enough. They had a strength inside themselves, all of them, that Reika wished she possessed.

Through her dreams, she learned the creatures’ appearances, names, strengths and weaknesses. More importantly, she learned how a warrior-girl’s body was meant to move. She’d still need to learn how to make her own body do it, but her dreams were study time.

Dealing with the enhanced strength and speed was an adjustment, to be sure, but she managed it. (Even if she did have a drawer filled with the things she’d accidentally broken.) She’d had to quickly work out an alternative for the alarm clock situation, and settled for keeping it across the room so she didn’t shatter it in the attempt to turn it off while half-asleep.

She coped by developing new systems, new routines. She would wake up in the morning and eat a quick breakfast, completing any homework she’d been unable to finish the night before. In spite of her new extracurricular activities, she was managing to keep her grades up with only a slight drop. She would go to school, enjoy whatever time she could have with Eiji. The dojo down the street had allowed her to rent a spare room for an hour a day, during her lunch, for a very low rate (and they’d helped her find weapons without too many odd looks). So every day, she would get out of fourth period, make an excuse to Eiji about why she couldn’t eat with him that day, race to the dojo, learn how to make her body do whatever she’d dreamed about the night before, wolf down some food, and race back to school for fifth period. After school she would study with Eiji, go home, and talk with her mom. At night, she would do a bit more homework, sneak out of her window, go hunting, deal with the various uglies and nasties, sneak back into the apartment, and dream. Dreams meant study, training, preparation.

The only part that was truly difficult was keeping her new life secret from Miharu and Eiji. There had never been anything she kept from Mihu before. Miharu knew everything about her, down to the fact that Reika’s wish during primary school had been to somehow find a dinosaur egg and have a brontosaurus for a pet that she could ride to school.

But Mihu already had enough to worry about without adding in Reika, along with what would be an iron determination to fix whatever scrape Reika had gotten herself into this time. Along with that, Reika knew that there was no way she could tell Eiji what was going on; he was the kind of guy that needed to protect his girl and look out for her. If he found out, he would think she didn’t need him anymore. He would be wrong, of course, but she didn’t know how to tell him that.

No, it had definitely been for the best that she keep it to herself.

But that was before. That was when Reika had been able to handle whatever came at her: maybe not as well as Miharu would have been able to had she been the one to become stronger, but well enough.

And it was before Eiji had gotten himself involved anyway.

Reika should have known her excuses wouldn’t hold him at bay forever. She had known, in fact, but had hoped that if she ignored it, he’d simply keep accepting the evasions as truth.

Tonight was the end of that. He’d followed her to find out what was going on with her: he was the moody and secretive one, not her. While it wasn’t in his nature to directly push her for answers she was unable to give, he wasn’t above doing a bit of detective work to figure her out. And he couldn’t have picked a worse time than tonight.

All right, so maybe he could have, but that was beside the point. This was certainly bad enough.

Reika had become used to dealing with one or two vampires at a time. Maybe as many as four at once, though that was uncommon. Tonight, she’d followed two vampires to a larger group, as had been her plan … but that had changed when she’d gone very quickly from hunter to intended prey of seven vampires. That was also around the time that she realized what a sucky hunter she was: Eiji had been following her since she’d climbed down the fire escape outside her window, and she hadn’t known.

So now Reika was trying to move quickly and quietly with Eiji in tow, which would have been bad enough because Eiji didn’t have a natural grace and had a tendency to walk heavily and loudly. Circumstances were considerably worse when you added in Eiji’s broken arm and bleeding neck, along with Reika’s dislocated shoulder and a gaping stomach wound from one of her own stakes (she was pretty sure that vinegar wouldn’t be enough to clean her sweater, and honestly she had serious doubts on whether or not her new accelerated healing would be up to managing this wound; it was by far the worst injury she’d dealt with to date).



She would do this. She had to.

What would Mihu do if she were in this situation?

… Actually, that really wasn’t as helpful as Reika had hoped it would be, because Miharu would have insulted them a few times and then won the fight somehow, simply because that was what Miharu did.

And not for the first time, Reika found herself aware that Mihu would have been much better suited for the role Reika now fulfilled than Reika herself was.

Reika tugged on Eiji’s non-injured wrist, allowing her vampire-tingly-sense to direct where they went. Eiji, thankfully, had acknowledged at the beginning, without words passing between them, that Reika was more knowledgeable in this, and had silently deferred to her expertise on the matter.

Reika stopped suddenly, her stomach knotting up with dread and the sick realization that in her effort to evade the too-large group of vampires, she’d allowed them to chase her into an area she didn’t know as well, one that wasn’t active at night … and worst of all, she’d gotten the two of them penned in.

She didn’t know what to do.

She didn’t know what to do.

She had to do something.

This was Eiji. Failure was simply unthinkable.

She took a quick inventory of her supplies: a number of stakes, three vials of holy water, and a rosary she’d picked up from the same church where she obtained the water. (Like her mother, Reika was Buddhist, but the dreams had taught her the efficacy of these — to her — foreign objects.) In her backpack, she had the heavy-duty supplies, a traditional wakizashi and a small hand-axe.

Reika passed Eiji a couple of her stakes, the wakizashi (since it had a longer reach than the axe), and a vial of holy water. She removed the rosary from her neck and placed it around his, and readied herself as best she could, slowing her breathing and doing her best to slip into an aware meditative state. She was making things up on the fly because she had no other option.

Two vampires, probably fledges, attacked ahead of the main group, and she took them out quickly and dispassionately, not even losing a stake in the process (and managing her fastest double-kill to date, two in just over five seconds). Then she waited again.

She’d leveled the playing field almost down to odds she’d fought before. These were smarter, though — and as such, probably older — than any she had ever faced before.

The five remaining attacked en masse. She’d made sure she and Eiji had a wall at their backs, so that they couldn’t be attacked from behind; the vampires came at them from the front and the sides, then, and Reika became an instant whirlwind of death, shutting out thought and moving and reacting on instinct alone. She had no idea how to win this fight, so she stopped thinking and simply did.

Then it was over, and she still didn’t know how they had survived, but that didn’t matter. Eiji threaded his fingers with hers, and Reika gave him a shaky smile before her knees gave out on her, exhaustion and blood loss finally triumphing over adrenaline.

It turned out that slapping bandages on her stomach, followed by a good night’s sleep, really was enough for Slayer healing to kick in, though she was moving gingerly for the next few days.

The day after the attack, however, when she arrived at her spare room in the dojo, Eiji was already there in an arm-cast and exercise clothes.

When they next went out together to hunt in their city, Reika thought, as she had done every day since her transformation, of the six-word question that had changed everything for her: Are you ready to be strong? For the first time, she had a new answer: I already am.

She still thought it should have been Mihu. Because it should have been. In her head, Reika would always measure herself against the kind of Slayer that Miharu would have made. But Reika realized that she wasn’t doing too shabby.

She would never be Mihu.

But she was finally content to be Reika.

[Reika Matsuo and Eiji Hayashihara (Red String) are the property of Gina Biggs.]

*                *               *

– January 2007 –

Akeem, prince of Zamunda (and by the grace of beneficent spirits, not to be king for some several years to come), sat across the kitchen island from his mother, his wife Lisa next to him. He wore silk pajamas, as this was an “informal” meeting, and Lisa was similarly casual; Queen Aoleon’s gown was far more richly detailed, for a reigning monarch must live by different rules, even within the innermost recesses of her own dwelling. That, in some ways, was the issue of this family conclave.

“She’s so young,” Lisa protested, yet again.

The Queen nodded. “She is young. We are not. We can allow her to be young for awhile longer, but our responsibility is to consider, and to plan, and eventually to decide.”

“Your Majesty —” Akeem began.

“Akeem,” Aoleon reproved gently, head tilted to one side.

It was a continuing theme between them, Akeem offering due tribute to his nation’s sovereign, the Queen preferring (unless official protocol demanded otherwise) to deal with her son. He had his reasons, and they went further than genuine love and respect; now, having again made proper obeisance, he said, “Very well, Mother. Yes, it is necessary that we discuss what kind of marriage we will someday arrange for our daughter. The difficulty lies in …” He coughed. “Well, in Malaika herself.”

“Akeem!” Lisa all but glared at him. “You make it sound like you’re ashamed of her!”

He took his wife’s hands in his own. “My beloved, I am proud of our daughter. I have been blessed beyond my deserving in having such a child. Our problem is that Zamunda may not feel itself equally blessed in its future monarch.”

“They love her,” she protested, but it was a weak effort.

“They love their outrageous, high-spirited princess,” he corrected mildly. “When the time comes for her to take the crown, they may feel differently.”

For, barring some tragedy to prevent it, Malaika would one day be called upon to govern this nation. Akeem was the only child of his parents; by similar mischance, Lisa had found herself unable to bear more children after their single daughter. That would raise difficulties, in time … and it was in recognition of those difficulties that, upon the death of his father, Akeem had led the successful petition to invest his country’s rule in the beloved Aoleon, rather than immediately in Akeem himself. He would be king someday, but not yet; and, when the time came for the succession to pass to Malaika, Zamunda would have precedent for (and memory of) a queen as ruler.

“She’s seventeen,” Lisa insisted. “She has time to grow, to learn. Akeem, you’re not even forty yet. By the time it comes to Malaika, she’ll be an entirely different person.”

“But we must begin our considerations now,” Aoleon replied. “And now, yes, my cherished granddaughter is a decidedly … unconventional prospect, for marriage as much as for rule.”

“I know,” Lisa sighed. “I know. She’s always been a handful; reminded me a lot of me at that age, if you want to know the truth. But the last few years —”

“Indeed,” Aoleon agreed.

Two years ago, the headstrong, impulsive Malaika had somehow … accelerated. Already an extreme personality, every part of her had suddenly amped up. A steady stream of harried tutors had resigned (or, in one case, been bodily ejected from the royal quarters by the indignant young princess). Her interests, mostly physical to begin with, had sharpened to riding, running, tracking, climbing — trees and mountains — archery, fencing, each more unladylike than the last. Hopes that this was simply an intense phase that the young woman would outgrow had proven fruitless; if anything, her energy seemed to grow more boundless by the day.

“She hunts with the Masai,” Akeem said, sighing also. “They feel great honor that an heir to the throne treks among them, and sing songs of her prowess in lion-hunting. Only … though those proud tribesmen are close-mouthed when it comes to outsiders, I have heard it whispered that at least once she killed a lion without bothering to use a spear. Much of the time, it is said, she fares into the deepest jungles with no companion at all, and none know what she hunts there.” He shook his head. “They have a name for her —”

“Death-Maiden?” Aoleon prompted. “Child of Sineya?”

Akeem looked to his mother. “You have heard this?” he asked.

“Not from them,” the Queen said. “There are old tales, legends …”

“Wait a second,” Lisa interrupted. “Death? What’s that about?”

Aoleon had come to love Akeem’s American bride, so she did not cool in response to this lapse in courtesy, though Akeem still felt a prickle of embarrassment. Instead she said to Lisa, “Among many of the tribes, not only in Zamunda but across much of Africa, ancient stories are told of extraordinary young women who would appear where evil creatures gathered, to fight and hunt and kill them, to hold back the darkness.” She smiled at her daughter-in-law. “I am sure, of course, that to you this must sound like primitive superstition.”

Lisa had been listening with gaping wonder, but now she shook it away. “You might be surprised at some of the stories I grew up with, clear back in Queens. Go on.”

“Very well. A child of Sineya — always a girl or young woman — is said to be strong as a mountain gorilla, fleet as a cheetah, fierce in combat as a mating leopard. She contests with demons, and these demons fear her. And, for such a girl, this heritage comes upon her when she herself reaches childbearing age.”

Lisa was paying attention, but at the same time a part of her thoughts seemed to be elsewhere. “So you think Malaika is one of these girls?”

“I am convinced of it.” Aoleon folded her hands in front of her. “When my only granddaughter changed so suddenly, I had those changes studied, and investigated, and researched. Quietly, privately, but very thoroughly. Old legends were not our only avenue: mutation, genetic manipulation, performance-enhancing drugs, all these possibilities were weighed and considered. Her new physical capabilities cannot be explained by science, but they match what is accounted for one of Sineya’s daughters.” She paused. “As did the dreams she described to me, when as her sovereign I requested that she tell me what she knew.”

Akeem suppressed a smile; a royal request would be tantamount to compulsion to anyone of Zamunda, even one allowed to privately call her queen ‘Grandmother’. What Aoleon had said accorded with his own he-had-thought-secret investigations, and he briefly wondered if he had unknowingly consulted some of the same sources as his mother. Then he turned his attention back to the more pressing concern. “One of these chosen young women, a daughter of Sineya —”

“She called herself a Slayer,” Aoleon mused. “With pride, it seemed to me.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.” That earned him a sharp glance, and Akeem continued blandly. “A … Slayer … might make an awkward fit as a wife. Or as a queen.”

Lisa had looked deeply startled for a moment (when the Queen interrupted him, yes), but now she shook her head emphatically. “Her father and her grandmother are wise, good people, and her mother will have something to say about it, too. She will learn what she needs to know. I won’t have it otherwise.”

“I would be cautious,” Aoleon pointed out, “of demanding the wrong things from one whose destiny would seem to have a competing claim. Fate has made our precious Malaika a hunter, a warrior; this does not preclude her being ruler, and wife — and mother of the next heir to Zamunda’s throne — but neither is it to be trifled with.” She looked to Akeem. “Even with our own best judgment as final guide, we must avail ourselves of every possible resource in dealing with this matter.”

“I, too, have heard stories,” Akeem said to his mother. “But of the present day, not legends. Young girls, dotted across this continent, coming into sudden new power … and a man who comes to them, counsels and guides them, and sometimes sends them to where they may receive training, support, and education. I believe he is the one we should seek out.”

“The one-eyed man,” Aoleon said, nodding. “The carpenter. Yes, he carries a formidable reputation. But … do you suggest him as a mate for our Malaika?”

“No, no.” Akeem shook it away. “Much good is said of him, but it would be too ticklish to for us to choose a white man as prince consort. Still, he may have knowledge we need.”

“Actually,” Lisa observed, “I might have a suggestion to make on this.” Their eyes swung to regard her, and she went on. “The legends you talked about, they reminded me of something, and when you said ‘Slayer’ —” She shivered. “Whoo, that was a jolt. See, one of my aunts in Queens used to talk about a friend she’d had in the Seventies. Told a lot of stories about her, made this woman Nikki sound like a real powerhouse. Only, a couple of times she used the word ‘Slayer’, and then shut up quick, like she’d let something slip she shouldn’t have.”

“I see,” Akeem said. “So, if we can find this Nikki —”

“Oh, she’s dead,” Lisa told him. “Sorry, I was about to get to that. But she had a son … and, according to Aunt Louisa, the man who’d been training Nikki — just like this carpenter guy you described — he took that boy to raise.”

There was silence while they considered that. “The son of a Slayer,” Aoleon said thoughtfully. “Reared, and perhaps trained as well, by one whose role was to guide Slayers. This could indeed be promising.” She tilted an eyebrow at Lisa. “Your aunt’s friend, and of course the woman’s son, they were —?”

“Definitely black.” Lisa laughed. “Hey, it might be a dead end, it was thirty-some years ago, right? But it’d be a place to start.”

“Just so. Just so.” Aoleon studied her son and his wife at length. “Akeem, do you believe you could persuade your fierce Malaika to leave off her lion-hunting long enough to accompany her parents on a journey to America?”

Akeem smiled. “If her father cannot persuade, her queen may always … request.”

Lisa stood up. “I’ll start making calls. Aunt Louisa’s pushing seventy by now, but you couldn’t stop her with a truck. What time is it in New York right now? Never mind, I’ll Google it.” And she was out of the royal kitchen in her own burst of sudden energy.

In the wake of that departure, Aoleon asked her son, “Does any of this strike you as perhaps a bit familiar?”

Familiar? He smiled back at her. Oh, yes, familiar indeed. Going to America, only it would be three of them this time; and, rather than a prince seeking a bride, it would be a princess seeking … something else.

To himself, he wondered if Malaika would find herself enjoying that hunt.

[Prince Akeem, Queen Aoleon, ‘Princess’ Lisa, and the country of Zamunda (Coming to America) are the property of John Landis, David Sheffield, Barry W. Blaustein, and Paramount Pictures.]

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