It was afternoon at the Fantastic Planet comic and hobby shop in downtown Collinsport. Twor young people stood in front of the rack displaying the week's new comics.
“You know, this title has been a lot better ever since they got Joss Whedon on board as the writer,” the young woman with short, black hair and glasses with thick, black rims said as she put the comic book back on the shelf. She was cute in a pierced-and-slightly-nerdy sort of way.
“I don't know, Carla,” the young man with longish brown hair and brown eyes said with a slight sigh. He was cute in a slightly sad sort of way. “Things always go wrong for his characters. They never seem to have a happy relationship, you know?”
“Sort of like someone you know?” She asked with a slight smile.
“Yeah. There's this one girl at school I really like. She's good friends with my cousin, Chloe
, but I don't think she has any sort of feelings for me. Plus her dad is dating my mom. It's kind of gone into a weird Brady Bunch kind of place. But I can't, you know, get over her. I'm pathetic.”
"No you're not,” she chided with a laugh. “Just hung up. It's not really fair to you, though, is it? You're a good guy, Jason. It's a shame she doesn't see that. I bet you wish you could show her that.”
“Maybe. I don't know. I wish she knew how rejected I felt, and that maybe a girl like her could actually have feelings for me.” He smiled slightly and shook his head. “Anyway. I guess I'm gonna get my comics and go. I gotta finish an article for the school paper. See you around Carla.”
As he walked to the counter, a small stack of comics in hand, he failed to see the young woman's face transform. It appeared skinless, nothing but raw muscle, bloodless but with strange glyphs carved into the flesh. “Wish granted,” she said with a malevolent smile.
It was after dark in Collinsport, and the Slayer and her friends were on patrol in St. Catherine's Field, one of the city's larger cemeteries. Seamus
had some concerns over Astrid
's recent performance in the field, and was using this opportunity to critique her technique...er...so to speak. At any rate, Ben
, and Cory Jennings
had all tagged along. Rumors were that a large nest of vampires had taken up residence somewhere nearby. In between the banter, the group noticed that the old rectory near the east side of the cemetery seemed like it would be the perfect place for a group of vamps to hole up. Astrid
approached the two-story house quietly, clambering up the side and through an upstairs window. It had been boarded up, but the Slayer was able to wrench the boards aside with a minimum of noise. Ben
took up positions near the front door, while Seamus
and Cory stood back. Robert
crept around the back, and the young male witch used a little spell to pry the boards loose over one window in silence as Chloe Collins
sent one of her drones flying up and around to get a good look at the place.
As it turned out, the place was far from empty. Astrid
moved through an upstairs room to a landing overlooking the main room below. There were seven vamps there, mostly young women, all led by a blonde who looked like she had stepped out of an episode of a 90s sitcom about a bunch of friends. There were also four bodies on the floor, but all were beginning to stir. Freshly-made vamps, without a doubt. Using the clever little sub-vocal communicator Chloe
had whipped up for them in her workshop, she let the group know what she'd seen, and then leaped down and straight into action. A flying kick, a quick stake, and one vamp was dust. Ben
were through the front door and into the midst of the vamps in a hot second. Blaze
's twin composite blades cut down one of the newbie vamps, while Ben
's axe took the head of a second, leaving twin piles of dust on the floor. But the rest were on them just as quick, fangs bared, punches flying, and hands grabbing as they tried to weigh them down with numbers. Astrid
went at their fashion victim leader, exchanging a flurry of blows and kicks with the vamp. Chloe
circled around, using her drones to blind a few of the vamps while launching arrows from her composite bow. Cory shifted into his werewolf form, and charged in, claws tearing. The remaining vamps broke and fled, and Cory launched Blaze
out the window after one! Ben
chased down another, and both of the football players dusted their vamps. The leader meanwhile had tipped over a candelabra and set the place ablaze, jumping out a window on the far side. Astrid
leaped through the flames, tumbled out the window after her, and pursued the blonde vamp into the cemetery. As the blonde hefted a tombstone to smash Astrid
tweaked her hands with a little hex, and the heavy stone crashed down on her head. It was almost anticlimactic when Astrid
drove a stake through her heart.
But things had been a little...off...during the dust-up. And Ben
were fairly dismissive of Astrid
as they left. Seamus
was annoyed with her, but that was just Seamus
. Cory left without saying much of a word, and Robert
was kind of short too. Chole seemed just fine towards Astrid
, though. Maybe it was just a guy thing?
The next day at school, it seemed like there was definitely something going on. People were cold or even downright rude to Astrid
. Josie blew her off on the way to class, and Maryanne ignored her completely. Meanwhile, Jason Stoddard had arrived at school, and the gang could see a whole gaggle of girls talking to - and outright flirting with - the Collins's cousin. It got worse. During first period, Ms. Darcy had Jason move to the front of the class and stuck Astrid
in back - right next to Laura Collins. Some of Laura's little gang of mean girls did everything shy of pick a fight with the Slayer, only to have Laura put them back in line. Apparently she had enough cold contempt for Astrid
normally, that whatever was affecting everyone else had no hold on her.
It all reached a boil at lunch. Not only did Ben
try to pour milk all over Astrid
, but Blaze
decided to yell "food fight!" Literally everyone targeted the Slayer, pelting her with meatloaf medley and noodle surprise. She ran out, straight to the library, and locked the door. Seamus
went from disappointed at her shoddy reflexes to realizing that it should simply be impossible for everyone to hit the Slayer with public school food. Astrid
cleaned up as Robert
made his way to the library after lunch. He was feeling...off...as well, and decided to look into the matter. Although he was somewhat contemptuous of Astrid
's plight at first, he did some research and cast a few divination spells. Something was really, really wrong. He and Seamus
dismissed the idea of a curse, and this definitely wasn't a blanket spell affecting the school. Something had literally re-written reality, making Astrid
a sinkhole of negative energy. The same thing had happened to Jason, only in reverse - he was a literal girl magnet. Only one thing could alter reality this way - a wish. But genies had certain tells, and no demon lords or demi-gods were about. This could be only one thing.
A vengeance demon.Robert
was able to brew up sort of a magic Prozac in his cookies, and by the time Blaze
, and Cory joined them, he had them all cooked up. Their feelings for Astrid
normalized (more or less) and it seemed something in Chloe
's cybernetic architecture made her immune to this subtle reality alteration. But this was all temporary stopgap. The situation was bound to get worse. They had to figure out what had happened, and who was responsible, and put an end to it before things turned really ugly. Astrid
sneaked out the back of the school after hours, and the rest of the gang went back to their homes (or in Blaze
's case, Collinwood) to get a night's rest. Unfortunately for Astrid
, things had gone from her dad avoiding her when he got home, to him packing up her stuff and leaving out brochures for a military academy! She left out one of Robert
's cookies for him, and things were smoothed over, at least for now.
The next day at school was even worse. Astrid
was greeted with cold silence and murderous stares from everyone. They saw that Jason was greeted with awed whispers and longing looks from some, jealousy from others. But that all changed when he snagged his pants on his locker door and they tore, revealing just a little too much skin. With a chorus of shouts, nearly all of the girls and a few boys started chasing after him, hungry for more. The gang realized he would likely be torn apart by the mob, and while Blaze
ran interference, Robert
distracted most of the crazed teens. They got him to the library, and figured out what to do next. Robert
had spoken with him the day before, and managed to work out that he'd talked to a cute sort-of-goth-in-a-nerdy-way girl named (he thought) Carla at the shop, and inadvertently made a wish. It had to do with rejection for Astrid
and love for him, but it had all gone horribly wrong, as was the case with most vengeance demons and their wishes.
With very little else to go on, Astrid
, and Blaze
decided to head to the comic shop. Robert
did some research, and found a ritual to summon a vengeance demon named Vincarla. With a few misadventures along the way, including a high-speed pursuit by Collinsport's finest and a few shots being taken, the trio that headed to the local comic shop arrived, sneaked in the back, and managed to give Chloe
a remote hook-up to the place's digitial security cameras. A quick review of the footage revealed Jason's mystery gal, and worse yet, Astrid
saw she was there!
Without a second to spare, Astrid
went to confront her. Even though Astrid
caught the vengeance demon with a solid punch, she only smiled, revealed her true face, and teleported away. "Your suffering is only beginning, Slayer!" The trio hightailed it out of there and back to school. A plan had been put together. Robert
would summon the vengeance demon and try not to get killed as Ben
, and Astrid
tried to get her power center away from her and smash it. Chloe
and Cory would run back-up, and keep Jason safe. Based on her cute, sparkly nose-ring with the shiny green stone, they figured this was likely the trinket they needed to smash.
Things hit a snag when Astrid
got spotted by the student body, and had to leave in a hurry. She ran off, trolling a crowd of angry students, and made her way into the nearest cemetery. The underground passages and utility tunnels beneath Collinsport actually sounded safer than aboveground right now!
Meanwhile, things went about like expected in the school library. Robert
managed to summon Vincarla, and Robert
nearly had a cerebral hemorrhage keeping her from teleporting out. Blaze
went after her with axe and open hand, and found themselves beat up and thrown around the library, right alongside Seamus
. But in the end, Blaze
managed to grab her long enough for Ben
to rip out her nose ring and Seamus
to smash it with his cane. With a flash of green light, a howl from the demon, and a rippling wave re-writing things, reality snapped back to normal. Astrid
had encountered a small nest of vamps in a mausoleum, but with one dusted, the rest decided to be elsewhere. All was right in the world.
After all was said and done, Jason apologized to Astrid
. He realized that it wasn't about the way he felt - it was about the way they both felt. And in the end, they'd be better off as friends. They both went solo to the Valentine's Day dance at school that night, and watched while eating cake. Blaze
and Maryanne had a dance, so did Ben
and Vicki Winters. And even the chaperones got in on the action as Cory and Angela Darcy cut a rug. But Astrid
and Jason shared a laugh as they realized that they were likely cursed to be alone. And then it kind of hit them that, hey, that was likely the case. A sobering thought. Eh, at least they had cake....