The Chosen :: A Buffy virtual series continuation

The professor paced back and forth in front of the packed auditorium as she lectured, occasionally gesturing to the assembled students, including Buffy and Tara. The two friends had selected two seats next to each other, carefully choosing an area that wasn't too close to the podium but not so far to the rear that the professor's voice couldn't be plainly heard.

"Now we're all clear on the impact role models have on our youth," the instructor continued. "Whether you look up to your parents, Marilyn Von Savant or Michael Jordan, the values, actions and ideals of these individuals all contribute to the development of your own moral compass." She scanned the sea of faces, all of which immediately adopted expressions of enraptured interest.

"This is where I went wrong," whispered Buffy, mouth barely moving. "When I was a kid? Nothing but nonstop 'People's Court'."

Tara's lips twitched with amusement. "I'm sure Rusty and Doug Llewelyn were the best possible role models," she returned in a hushed tone.

The lecture continued without interruption. "But the popular misconception is that once we leave adolescence, we also leave behind our need for role models. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even as we ourselves may become role models, we still aspire and grow. We arrogantly believe our sets of values and beliefs, our sense of right and wrong, to be set in stone. Immutable." She paused in her restless stride and faced the captive gathering. "The fact is that they are constantly evolving, changing, and adapting to incorporate new exposures and experiences, and as such we strive to find new role models who embody our current interests and values. Simply put, we still have much to learn, and as such will always look for new role models to teach us ..."

The squalid little room was dark and dingy. Shadows pervaded every corner, illuminated only by a dim light courtesy of two table lamps that sported shades of some indeterminable color. An iron bedstead dominated the area, bearing only a single white sheet covering the mattress. Situated in front of the bay window, a scarred desk that had seen better days was littered with a pathetically meager stash of personal belongings and small heaps of trash, which had yet to find their way into the already overstuffed waste paper basket. Beyond the grime-streaked panes, the view was no less dismal, overlooking what was presumably Trillium's version of Skid Row. An ancient television set had been bolted onto a frame attached to the wall. Its screen was coated with a thick layer of dust and most of the tuning knobs were broken. The power cord dangled forlornly, a good six inches shy of the nearest outlet.

Crouching by the side of the bed, a young man was meticulously tattooing his left bicep. The design was abstract in nature, resembling a swirl of what might have been arcane symbols. He wore a hood fashioned from heavy black material that enveloped his face totally, save for one lone neatly-cut eyehole. Smears of blood on his naked chest mingled with trickling sweat as he concentrated on the delicate etching. The youth paused occasionally to compare the current artistry with a similar ornamentation on his shoulder, but otherwise worked with single-minded focus, oblivious to all else.

A tiny bottle had been placed on the floor nearby, the label proclaiming it be India ink. Pausing in his detailed work, the youth reached for another small phial. Given the limited light, the contents of this bottle were difficult to discern, but the clotted smears around the rim provided likely evidence of the primary ingredient. He turned to the mattress and scooped a quantity of pooled blood into the phial, gently shaking it to ensure a smooth blend of the two components within. Atop the sheet lay the body of a female. Her age was impossible to measure, so mangled were the contorted features now frozen in a death mask. Displaying no emotion, the tattooist regarded the corpse for a fleeting moment before returning to the task at hand.

"You did well."

At the sound of the voice, the tattooer glanced over his shoulder toward the shadows that were spread thick across the rear of the room. He inclined his head respectfully, acknowledging the compliment. "Master."

Stepping into the weak light, the man approached his protégé. He too was bare-chested but unlike his young charge, wore no hood. The muscled torso was a virtual tapestry of intricate patterns and shapes. No inch of skin had been spared, and the markings had become so numerous they were beginning to overlap, mutating into something entirely new and unintended. The elaborate decorations extended down his arms and below the waistband of his twill khakis.

There was a certain fascinating beauty inherent in the tattoos of this older man. He had long since transcended the simple blue-black inkings of his apprentice, utilizing gem-like dyes of emerald, sapphire and ruby to enhance the human canvas. Nonetheless, each image appeared to radiate with an underlying layer of dull red, indicating their origins could likely be traced to the same morbid and ominous source.

The Master's step was confident and self-assured as he made his way further into the room. The iron-gray hair cropped close to the scalp and the deeply ingrained creases around the eyes and mouth indicated a man in his late 50s, but the well-toned and athletic body rivaled that of a much younger individual. His appraising gaze traveled slowly from perpetrator to victim. It was the critical evaluation of a learned teacher assessing the relative merits of his would-be star pupil.

"The knife work you did near the end, on her face?" The apprentice nodded, again displaying all due reverence, as the older man's expression, formerly quite impassive, adopted the shadow of a satisfied smile. "That was inspired."

Despite the confines of the hood that masked his features, it was apparent that his protégé was thrilled with the praise. "Thank you, Dante," he murmured gratefully. "I just went with what felt right."

Dante laid a hand lightly upon the young man's shoulder. "It's a good way to go. Trust your heart. There's truth in every lie."

Tilting his head, Dante surveyed the corpse before moving to stand beside the motionless body. He absently dabbled his fingers in the crimson pool before allowing them to drift upward, brushing the woman's cheek and leaving behind a bloody trail. His hand settled upon her hair and he stroked it gently with what seemed to be affection. Presumably lost within some personal reverie, he stared into the perfect blue eyes that regarded him with indifference. Even when he finally spoke, his focus never wavered from her face.

"Still, you ended things too soon," he chastised the apprentice with a regretful sigh. "Her terror, her desperation, her pain ... That's what makes the blood potent. It has to be potent. You can't forget that."

Immediately repentant, the other man hung his head. "No, Master. I'm sorry. I got carried away."

Dante shrugged. "Well you're young yet. You still have a lot to learn." For a long moment, his attention continued to be fixed upon the woman.

Then, in a blur of motion, a slim-bladed knife appeared in his hand. Almost savagely and yet with precise control, Dante applied his skill in trade. His expression never changed as the sound of flesh being expertly sliced invaded the ears of the apprentice. The young man watched with avid interest – the master was at work. Less than a minute passed, and the knife was again stilled.

"But don't worry ..." comforted Dante as he set the newly acquired trophies to one side. He looked once more into the face of the woman and his gaze lingered awhile on the vacant sockets.

"...I have a lot to teach you."

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