Before Joseph, a large well-lit room was slowly filling with a great many disorientated people. They arrived in silent flashes of white light the intensity of which was lessened by generous lighting of the room. The people were greeted with a comfortable atmosphere, the room being filled with many plush couches and chairs as well as refreshments laden upon long tables draped in white. The ceiling extended several dozen feet above, terminating in a mostly glass dome that was mirrored black due to the night sky. The floor was old but well polished and maintained wood, with nary a squeaky board to be found, and the walls were painted warm shades and populated by various works of art, mostly portraits. At the fore of the room stood two massive hardwood doors that looked like they belonged to a fairy-tale castle, the entirety of which were carved with scenes of triumphant battle. Flanking these doors were large, narrow windows of stained glass depicting similar scenes. At the rear of the room a single large, wide staircase lead up to a wide, railed landing that housed two smaller, more plain double doors. It was on this staircase that Joseph sat, dressed in casual civilian clothing, absent-mindedly observing the actions of the people who had begun to appear.
They were people of all sorts, though they fell into a relatively small age bracket. All similarly startled and confounded by the their sudden predicament. They began to ask each other where they were, only to learn that none of their fellows had any clue either. A few tried the doors, both the large wooden ones and the various smaller ones around the room, but found them to be locked. Despite this, no one openly panicked. They had no idea how they had gotten there, having one moment been going about their days and the next finding themselves God knows where, but none of them thought the intentions of whatever brought them there were malicious. Joseph didn't know for sure, but he figured Marco and a sprinkling of magic had a hand in that. He'd have to ask later. Eventually, most of the people began to relax. Some of them sat, some of them ate. Most of them talked excitedly to one another, theorizing just what was going on. A few had taken it upon themselves to greet the new people that spontaneously appeared, helping to keep everything a little orderly. In the few recruitment drives Joseph had seen, it had been like this. Much of it likely had to do with the type of people chosen for this job. Not being prone to panic was a big part of what made a good Slayer.
The Slayer Corps. Supernatural police force extraordinaire. Nobody in the room but Joseph knew it, but they were all about to be given a choice that would change them forever, mentally, physically, and emotionally. Once all those who had answered yes on those mysterious notes had gathered, Joseph knew that the wizard Marco would stride through the doors behind him to greet the new blood and offer them a choice. Some would accept, some would decline. Most would not make it through the battery of tests that would follow. Those who did, however, would be well on their way to becoming humanity's absolute elite; the only thing holding back an ever encroaching wave of darkness ignored by the common folk. To become a Slayer was the ultimate honor, at least in Joseph's mind, but it came with a price. It was the single most dangerous job on the planet.
Which suited Joseph just fine.
Giselle, never having been fond of her studies, was staring at the clock of the classroom as she waited for the teacher to dismiss them. She had been the same all throughout elementary, middle and high school and wasn't any different in college. She had prematurely packed her bag, despite the teacher loathing the sound of zippers being opened or closed before class ended, and was ready to leave when she suddenly looked down at her desk. There was a note sitting there; Is the world worth protecting? She pursed her lips, wondering if one of the other students had placed it there as a joke. She realized she would have noticed if someone had placed it there, as no one sat near her and despite her eyes having been mostly on the clock, her desk still was viewable through the corners of her eyes. Not to mention, none of the students around her seemed to only care about themselves and didn't seem to be the type that would care about the world. Still, she had an urge to check one of the boxes and after fumbling around her bag for a pen she checked the box yes before tucking the paper into her pocket.
In her distraction the teacher had dismissed the class and Giselle quickly grabbed her bag and headed out of the classroom to head for the bathroom. As she entered she noticed that the room was eerily quiet. Usually it was teaming with girls her age gossiping as they touched up their makeup, giggling about which guy had the cutest smile or butt. Talk she had no interest in. Despite the unsettling quiet, Giselle used the facility and was washing her hands when she suddenly looked up. She wasn't in the bathroom anymore. A curse escaped her lips as she was surrounded by people in a room she had never been to or seen before. Her once quiet surroundings were now different and loud, people around her all seeming to be confused as to where they were. For whatever reason Giselle did not panic and instead tried to reason with herself that she was just having a dream, or she had been knocked out, or some possible explanation that wasn't crazy. But, after pinching herself and going over her last thoughts Giselle realized that she wasn't having a dream and that she was really in a different room full of a bunch of people that also had no idea what had happened.
Great. Either I was drugged up and sent to a loony bin or we all got magically transported to a room where there's no explanations. Ha! Magic. I need to stop reading fantasy books. Giselle pushed her thoughts aside as she very carefully navigated her way out from the center of the crowd to the outer edge of the room. From here she could see more of the room. It was tall and beautiful, like the room of a castle out of a fantasy story. She turned to look at the large staircase beside her, wondering if she should go up it before she noticed a man sitting on the staircase. Normally she would have ignored him, like she did with most of the others in the room, but he was slightly different. Instead of looking eager to find answers, as nearly everyone else in the room did, he looked bored. His facial expression suggested that he had seen this before, or perhaps been part of it before. She considered asking him if he knew what was going on but decided against it and upon realizing that she had been staring at him broke her gaze to observe the rest of the crowd.
She stood despite getting tired and continued to observe everyone. She didn't trust anyone and wasn't about to sit down and allow herself to be vulnerable in case something should happen. Eventually she allowed her backpack to slide off her shoulders and set it on the ground beside her, but that was about the only thing she did in an attempt to become comfortable. She wanted answers, not comfort.
Dan settled back in the seat and eyed the instructor lazily. His pen tapped his notebook, and his left knee bounced up and down unconsciously under the table. He was bored. This was a boring class, with boring classmates, and a boring teacher. The whole subject was both irrelevant and completely relative to your point of view. You might as well have a class on future forms of dance or something--it was all complete guesswork. Let alone the dates that the teacher tossed about so casually--carbon dating was every bit as dependent on your starting assumptions as Art History I.
"Those are some good theories," the teacher said. She gestured towards the screen. "Any others? Why do you think that some of the anthropomorphic figures in this example are done in black pigments, while the object of the hunt and other human figures are red?"
"Maybe they ran out of one color and had to use the other," Dan offered. This is stupid... "Maybe two kids wanted to draw on the wall, but couldn't decide between red and black, so their parents came up with a compromise that looked stupid. Maybe just the red figures were done at first, but then someone came along with a pot of black and decided to finish it. Maybe the original work was black, and someone was interrupted redoing it in red."
He tuned the rest of the lecture out, instead settling down to sketch a twi'lek woman in his notebook. He made a rough drawing, then turned the page, intent on using a fresh sheet to make the final image, when his fingers froze.
Someone had written in his notebook.
The question was incongruous, the check yes/no incorrigible. He shrugged, scratched a line through 'yes' without thinking about it--if he'd gotten the question before his sketching he would have checked 'no'--and went on to the next sheet.
When he looked up next, he was no longer sitting in room 312.
He started, but forced himself not to flip out. Instead he stood slowly, heart pounding, and hooked a thumb into his front pocket where he had two folding knives clipped. With his free left hand, he carefully folded shut his notebook, then stood still and stared about at the strange room. It was... well, it was artistic. Someone really cared about classic beauty around here.
Oh, and there was food. Some people were eating, something that Dan had read was a big no-no when you were in faerie-land, which he reckoned was as good an explanation as any for his new surroundings. He began to move, slowly working his way around the room, trying to get a feel for where he was now, trying to discover their purpose here...
The day concluded painfully with a Thursday afternoon physics lab. Olivia declined an invitation to hang out at the mall, which usually would have been a godsend after a grueling torture fest with Dr. Bailey at the helm. She had to get home to prepare for a horrendous European history exam. The subject itself wasn't too strenuous, but the dates hadn't been sticking in her head. She had put her nose so close to the grindstone that she frankly couldn't see the whole picture. Her grades in the subject were good enough, but her parents would be hovering nearby with just the right disproving glance to push her over the edge. College couldn't come soon enough as a release.
She opened the back door to set up her study space and stare at her scrawled notes until she finally succumbed to sleep, but she was stopped by a strange note tacked to the usually bare cork-board that the family once tried as an experimental alternative to communicating face to face. She didn't recognize the handwriting and she pulled it off to get a closer look. It asked if she thought their world was worth saving. Truth be told, Olivia was always a quiet optimist. That had never changed about her and it likely never would. The entire world held way too many people to be judged by one alone. Sure, she knew enough fake activists and unintelligent bull-headed ingrates that wore on her nerves and caused her to doubt the future of their once-intelligent species, but even a quick glance back into history showed that for every war monger and unlawful king there was at least genius or good-natured martyr who would change the minds of a hundred people willing to listen against oppression. She couldn't in good faith speak for the billions of people she'd never met and so she quickly checked yes. Not that she suspected anything would come of the stray piece of paper, of course. Olivia figured it might have been something left over from sensitivity training that one of her parents might have had to sit through. Before she could return the simple question under the tack, she realized that she was no longer standing in her kitchen.
The bright flash of light was another good indicator that something was wrong.
She found herself in a completely unfamiliar white room. Olivia quickly ruled out a hospital although she had momentarily suspected she had collapsed and suffered a panic attack, although she imagined in the back of her mind that such an episode would have been much more terrifying. The others in the room were completely unfamiliar to her. Some were milling towards the walls and corners, obviously unwilling to make the first move in such a strange environment. There was food laid out and couches, most of which were unoccupied in favor of the much more controlled and isolated posture of standing meters apart from each other. The food seemed like an absolute waste and Olivia moved over to take a snack and moved herself towards one of the empty couches. Her eyes scanned the room again.
Olivia noticed that one of the guys had knives on his person but he obviously wasn't in attack mode. He thumbed the empty belt loops on his pants and continued to glance around the room for signs of what they were gathered for. She made a mental note that he seemed to be the type of guy who could hold his own in a fight and that might be something to remember in the future. Another girl allowed her backpack to fall to the floor beside her. She, too, was completely ill at ease. Having come from school, Olivia assumed that they might be here for the same reason. Everyone seemed to be between high school and college age and there must have been a reason for it. As she took another bite she decided to go ahead and begin to ask questions. Even though no one gave off the glimmer of a helpful informant, she figured she could loosen up at least one individual in the room.
The boy with the trigger-finger for his knives didn't seem like the ideal target for his subtle and sunny brand of interrogation so she moved on to the other girl with the vibrant red hair who had caught her attention. Olivia attempted to wave at her to see if she would join her. If she could at least figure out if they were transported like she was, that would be a good start.
This has to do with that note. Because I decided that the world should be saved did I... sign myself up for some secret agent training? Because I'm really not the right fit for that, she thought nervously to herself.
She began to grow accustomed to the bright flashes as new people began to be 'transported' to this room. It was most certainly not a trick act that many 'magicians' gave off to thrill an audience. Through eventual elimination, Giselle realized that the mode people were being transported was via some sort of teleportation and since she didn't believe the technology had been discovered yet she found that the only possible explanation was magic. Although it was completely unreasonable and not entirely sound, she couldn't think of anything else that could cause people to appear in bright flashes. She had appeared here. Not by a tunnel or trap door, and she doubted she had been drugged. She would have woken up on the ground, not standing. She rubbed her head, annoyed with her thoughts. It was not going to be helpful as to how they got here and she had a feeling that eventually it would all be explained in time.
The flashes began to slow and she decided to focus on the newcomers instead of how they got there or she feared she would create a migraine. One fellow that caught her eye was a man who looked weathered, it was the best word she could think to describe him. She in particularly noted the tattoo of the gargoyle on his collarbone, it made her think that he was a bit older than a good number of the people in the room. He looked as though he had seen things before and despite being in a new element he wasn't panicking and was moving about the room. He seemed to be observing his surroundings and seemed to be looking for answers rather than stand around with their mouths open like some of the others. Though her observation of him was cut short when she caught movement to the side of her vision to see that there was a young woman waving at her. She was the type of girl that Giselle generally avoided as she seemed to be the type of girl that would fit in with the 'popular' kids. Yet, there seemed to be something a bit different about the girl that seemed almost welcoming and she didn't have the superior upturned nose attitude that Giselle was used to seeing.
She hesitated for a moment longer, pondering as to whether or not it would be beneficial to speak with a stranger at the moment. After a bit of thought, Giselle realized that all she really wanted was to speak with someone else about the situation. Gather some information and see what the common connection between everyone was. She picked up her bag made her way over towards her, carefully stepping between people and sliding between them as she did her best to avoid bumping into them. Yet, despite her efforts she took a step too big and lost her balance. She stumbled and managed to nearly slam herself into the man she had been observing earlier, the one with the gargoyle tattoo. She quickly slid a foot back into a defensive stance, immediately expecting some sort of backlash.
"I'm very sorry, I tripped. Didn't mean to bump into you," Giselle faltered for more excuses and in the end just felt incredibly awkward. "I'm going to uh..go, sorry again about that."
Without waiting for his response, Giselle quickly hurried over to the other girl. Her face was about as red as her hair, feeling embarrassed. She was normally quite quick on her feet and able to avoid most, but with the weight of her backpack she had managed to tip over just a bit too far with that step. She did her best to push it aside, offering the girl a small and awkward smile as she did her best to be socially inviting.
"Hi, I saw you waving me over. I'm, uh, Giselle. I hope you didn't see me nearly bulldoze into that man just a second ago...a bit disoriented in this room. Anyway, do you have any idea what's going on? I don't think anyone does but...figured I'd ask."
Giselle was very bad with first meeting people. Over time she would eventually learn to relax around someone, but with the new surroundings and her distrust of people in general she wasn't going to relax anytime soon.
The room was beginning to fill to capacity. The bursts of white light that signaled the arrival of a potential recruit became more sporadic until they finally ceased altogether. Joseph knew that Marco would sense when all those who answered the call had arrived, and would soon come through the doors behind him to greet the gathering. Joseph rose from where he sat and walked out into the room, picking up an unoccupied chair as he went. He replaced the chair toward the center of the room, facing the staircase where he could easily see and be seen by Marco. He sat, propped his elbow up on the arm of the chair and rested his cheek on fist.
Truth be told, Joseph did not want to be there. He felt as though he was being punished, cooped up as he was in headquarters for "decompression" or whatever they were calling it. I shouldn't be here, he thought, I should be out in the world doing what I was trained to do. But instead, he was here. Joseph was not yet sure what Marco had planned for him while he was on force vacation, but he assumed it would have something to do with the recruits coming in.
There wasn't long to wait before the main event began. Very suddenly, the two doors atop the staircase opened, loud enough to be heard throughout the room. For those assembled who had been trying to open a door for some time, the sound caught their attention immediately. Through the doors strode someone who looked very little like a traditional wizard. Marco was a tall, dark skinned man whose age could have been anywhere between twenty-five and forty. He wore his hair very short, and a tasteful goatee adorned his face. He wore an expensive looking black suit that shimmered with a strange sheen when he moved.
Marco addressed the crowd, his voice clear throughout the room although he did not appear to be speaking loudly. "Welcome, honored guests, to the first night of the rest of your lives. No doubt you are all very confused and perhaps concerned as to where you are, and why you have not been permitted to leave. I can assure you that you are in no way prisoners, and anyone wishing to leave now may do so. However, I bid that you listen to what I have to say, for it may very well change your life forever." He paused, waiting to see if anyone demanded out now. No one spoke up. They seldom did. "My name is Marco. I am overseer of an organization that exists to protect and serve humanity. This organization is known as the Slayer Corps."
At those last words, a group of six people strode through the doors and took up post on either side of Marco. They wore armor of various kinds, and bore weapons as well. Swords, maces, and even a bow were on display. All of them looked confident and strong. Joseph immediately recognized them as the Slayer's elite task force, Alpha Group. Marco continued, "Although it may be difficult for you to believe, we exist to protect the human race from creatures it chooses to ignore." Murmuring filled the room. A few people even openly laughed. Surely, this man must be insane, many of them thought. That or this was some sort of elaborate hoax.
Finally, someone stepped up and yelled, "Let me go home already!" The man instantly vanished in a flash of light identical to that which had brought them all there.
"As I said before, you are all free to go any time you wish. That man will awake in the morning with no recollection of tonight's events. Heed me well, friends, I am no trickster. I have selected each of you personally because you hold within you the potential to join the ranks of the Slayers."
At this point, Marco stepped back and allowed one of the armor-clad Slayers beside him to take center stage. She was a tall blonde woman in gleaming plate armor, a claymore at her hip. She addressed the crowd in a firm but reassuring voice, "I am Lisa Umbridge, Slayer and leader of Alpha Group, most senior division of our Corps. I have personally lead assaults against beings you could only ever have imagined. And so I can tell you with no doubt that what Mister Marco tells you is true. Five years ago I was in your position. Confused, untrusting, but I took the plunge. I don't regret a single moment of my life as a Slayer." She stepped back into line with her fellow Slayers and Marco took the stage once more.
"And now it is time to make your choice. You may stay here and face a battery of physical and mental tests, or you can leave and go back to your old life none the wiser. Choose with great care."
Dan jumped when the doors opened, and his jaw clenched in irritation. Years. I've been aware of my hyperreactions for years, and they still get to me. Scowling, he moved to a vantage point and stood watching the presentation. Personally, he wasn't surprised that more people weren't opting out. While quite alarming, the situation had a surreal quality that had him half convinced it was a dream.
And you can't die in dreams. I know, I've tried.
The--yowza--viking babe was certainly striking. Dan considered what she said, wondering, as the man finished up with his offer. If this was a dream, there was no harm in taking the offer. If this was madness, why fight it? If this was an elaborate hoax... play the game.
When in basic, Dan had volunteered to be first in the clinch drills. He'd rushed in time and again, taking crushing blows from sadistic Drill Sergeants who were trying to use him to frighten the other trainees. Dan had been beaten down several times. He'd gotten the clinch every time. He could have waited for the Drill Sergeant to get tired beating on a few dozen other privates first, or waited for them to switch out to the small Drill Sergeant, whose much shorter reach meant an easy clinch. Dan hadn't, though--he'd gone first. He'd wanted to take the hardest pummeling, just so he could get up and make it anyway, just to see the looks on his platoon's faces. I may be skinny and weak compared to you ex-jocks, but I'll always be tougher.
The thoughts flashed through his mind and there was really no other outcome.
"Sure, I'll do it," Dan said, coming forward a couple of steps. "I always did like Buffy the Vampire Slayer."