FIC: MC 56. Aug ’02 – Slayer’s Strength (1/?)
Previously In The Mithras Chronicles (From Taking A Chance)
He smiled to himself as he turned his remote viewing device on, preparing it to spy on one of the men he considered a possible threat. They were few in number, those he considered possessing the combination of will, intellect, and resources to be of concern to him. That select few included Strange, Richards, Stark, and of course Xavier.
He concentrated. The screen he was staring at cleared to reveal Xavier’s base. He moved to Xavier’s study. Finding his potential adversary talking to a young man h listened with interest to the youthful stranger’s story. "He’ll bear watching."
Turning away from the youth and his host, he moved through the mansion, inspecting it for any new potentially useful or dangerous mutant. His heart stopped when he reached the training room, the young woman he saw exercising there re-igniting feelings he’d only previously felt once before.
Where the first woman to inflame his heart had been blond and demure, this one was brunette and brash. But both had within them something, a spark, that he had to possess. He listened to the woman talk, his interest growing as he learnt of her supernatural powers. "Fascinating." He reached out a finger to stroke her curvy image. "You will be mine," he promised.
Standing, he strode through his base, his minions scurrying away from him. Finally he reached a vast chamber filled with various artefacts from ancient cultures. Some were just curiosities, but others…. He smiled as he spied the object he wanted. "Slayer’s Strength," he picked up the hexagonal amulet. So his Faith was a Slayer? She’d appreciate this, the question was how to get it to his future bride. His smile widened. All it took was a little patience and ingenuity, and in time an opportunity would present itself.
* * *
Previously In The Mithras Chronicles (From A Spot Of Jonesing)
A Central European Castle.
He closed his eyes, allowing his secretary’s words to wash over him, bored with the affairs of state. These days he was rather more interested in the affairs of the heart. "And the peasants in -."
His secretary’s report was interrupted by a beeping from the display unit build into his walnut desk. His heart raced when he read the report. " "Wait a moment," his gauntleted fingers flew over the unit’s grey keyboard. He smiled as the report was confirmed. The nano-technology he’d added to the amulet corroborated it, the Slayer had found the amulet. Now he could track her wherever she went, and his scheme would take place. Soon, she would be his to cherish. He could take her now, but part of the fun was in the chase, watching his plans unfold. He looked up at his secretary. "Soon," he smiled at his cowering secretary. "Soon, I will have a queen again!"
"Yes sir," the secretary backed out of his office, eyes wide.
His laughter boomed out, filling the otherwise empty room.
* * *
He looked around his drearily empty throne room and the vacant seat beside him. He comforted himself with the thought that soon the seat would be filled by his love. It was just a case of getting her to him.
Hearing footsteps in the outer corridor, he gazed towards the entrance,
hungrily awaiting news of his master-plan’s progress, he had no question that
the plan would work, he had after all designed it himself, no his concern was
with those he’d sent to execute it. The man who entered was tall and lean with a
hooked nose hanging over a snow-white moustache. "Greetings mi’lord."
"Prime Minister," he reigned in his importance with an effort. He’d learnt from experience that anything other than an even tone from him turned most people into a quivering wreck. "Have you heard any news?"
"Sire," the government official smiled as he bowed at the waist. "The trap has been baited. Not only will they be enticed there as a group to get hold of a very important and powerful magical artefact, then they will be encouraged to split up and pursue their differing interests, leaving her alone."
"And the men?" He leaned forward in his seat.
"Six of our country-men, loyal and true, ready to act on your orders."
He sank bank in his throne and nodded smugly. "Excellent. Soon my plans will come to fruition." He paused. "Remind them she is not to be hurt."
"Of course, sire."
* * *
"You’ve got the Wisdom Staff?"
Tara beamed and nodded at his query, eyes fixed on the ornately carved four foot long staff with a glowing ruby at either end. "But thirty-four million dollars, are you sure?"
"It’ll mean you’re better at magic, won’t it?" Xander asked.
Tara nodded. "With The Wisdom Staff I’ll be able to control my powers more efficiently and remember spells better."
"Then it was worth every cent." Xander grinned. "Now that’s over with we can have some real fun. Anyone wanna come see ‘The Inter-Stellar Alliance’ with me?"
"Oh yeah," Faith snorted. "Like I’m gonna come with ya to a geek convention. I’d be a fuckin’ mass-murderer when half the nerds die of excitement the moment a stone-cold fox like me walked into the place."
"A geek convention?" Deeply insulted, Xander pulled himself up to his full height. "Babylon 5 is not a geek program, it’s a work of art. Furthermore ‘The Interstellar Alliance is not a geek convention it’s a -."
"Yawn, yawn, and oh yeah, fucking yawn," Faith interrupted. "There’s an open-air show with a bunch of underground metal acts, beer tents, and cutting edge hogs, all in the one place. And you expect me to go to a sci-fi show?" Faith laughed and shook her head. "So not gonna happen."
"Fine," Xander shrugged. "Your loss." He turned and smiled winningly at his
other two companions. "How about you two lovely ladies?"
"Sorry Xander." Tara and Kennedy had their arms around one another’s waists. The Wicca shook her head. "But we thought we’d spend some time together."
"Okay," Xander sighed. "But you don’t know what you’re missing."
"I think they do," Faith snarked, "that’s kinda the point. What babe wants to be mobbed by a bunch of pimply-faced dorks?"
Xander glared at his smirking girl-friend. "I could go off you," he warned.
Faith snorted, apparently unimpressed by his threat. "Honey, you keep going to these dork-fests and you’ll never get back on top of me again. Girl’s got standards." Faith glared at Kennedy’s laugh. "Heard that brat."
"I just can’t believe you pretend sleeping with Xander means you have standards!" Kennedy retorted.
"Hey!" Xander protested.
"No," Faith nodded thoughtfully. "She has a point."
* * *
Xander grinned as he made his way into the buy conference hall, loving the way the fast chamber was made up to look like the Earth Alliance Meeting Hall. Many of the luminaries of the luminaries of the Babylon 5 universe were going to be here – Doyle, Furst, Conaway, Katsulas, Tallman, Scoggins, Carter, and Koeing. Not only that, the man, the genius, himself, the creator of the greatest show ever, J. Michael Straczynski was going to make the keynote speech. Then there was going to an auction of general science-fiction memorabilia.
This was going to be the best few hours of his life. Although if Faith ever found out he’d thought that…. Xander shuddered, he’d be wearing his testicles as earrings.
* * *
"It’s A Raining Men! Hallelujah!"
Kennedy stared at the three drag queens on the gaudily lit stage butchering The Weather Girls’ greatest hit. Of course calling anything by The Weather Girls ‘greatest’ was a stretch….. "Why is it every gay bar I’ve ever been in is a stereotype, an exaggeration?"
Tara giggled at her girl-friend’s disdain. "At least you don’t have worry about men hitting on you in here," she pointed out.
"No just asking me for fashion tips," Kennedy replied.
"Now who’s stereotyping?" Tara reprimanded.
* * *
Faith grinned as she strutted into the open area set aside for the hog show, revelling in the many eyes watching her in her leather pants and jet black gym-vest. The smell of oil filled her nostrils, the sounds of engines revving and the band on centre stage pounding away filling her ears. All around leather and denim clad bikers of varying ages moved from stall to stall, eagerly eyeing up this year’s new motorbikes.
Faith had a secret dream, something she’d never even considered remotely possible before her baby had come into her life. After the immediate apocalypse was over with, the one Xan was building The Brotherhood for, they were gonna buy a sprawling house somewhere secluded. She was gonna buy a pair of German Sheppards and call ‘em Butch and Sundance, they were gonna be like her, cute but dangerous, and she was gonna buy the best motor bikes she could buy. And she was gonna throw parties every month, hire the best bands, and invite all the buds she’d made forming the Brotherhood.
But first, Faith’s smirk widened, there were beer tents to find.
FIC: MC 56. Aug ’02 – Slayer’s Strength (2/?)
Faith grinned as she chugged down her fourth beer in a single swig. As usual,
there were plenty of eyes on her. As usual, she couldn’t care less. "Nice beer,"
she complimented the watching bartender. "Fill me up again."
"Are you sure little lady?" the hulking six footer queried. "You’re putting them back awfully quickly."
"I know my limits," Faith winked seductively at the bartender. "And I’ve a
ways to go ‘fore I reach ‘em. Just keep pourin’."
"You must come with me."
Faith twisted at the waist to face the speaker, not bothering to rise from her stool. "I don’t think so."
"You must," the man insisted.
Faith stared down at the man’s hand on her elbow. "Move your hand before I break it." Faith nodded as the man obeyed but failed to move away. "We’re half-way to an understanding. Now fuck off." Faith gritted her teeth when the man continued to hover beside her.
He was a short man in his late forties with brown hair greying at the fringes, a boxer’s nose squashed flat against his face, and a body running to fat. What the hell delusions he was labouring under making a pass at a fox like her, she had no idea but she was no longer a scared kid who had to put up with some old letch to feel safe anymore. Quelling the urge to punch the man’s lights out, she rose and stalked out of the tent, her previous good mood dissipating.
Comforting herself there were other beer tents, Faith strode through the milling crowd, shouldering her way through the display stands, shooting warning glares at any man or woman who even looked her way. A couple of drinks later and she was feelin’ a little better.
She grinned as she heard a band start playing, recognising the song instantly as one she’d recently bought. "Wicked," she muttered, "time for a dance." Faith supped back the rest of her drink before heading out of the tent.
She’d hardly gotten six paces out of the tent when her admirer appeared with four other men. "Come with us."
Faith glared fearlessly at the quintet, noting for the first time the man’s thickly foreign accent. "Fuck off." She attempted to step around the men. Her eyes narrowed when the group’s leader grabbed her forearm.
Faith snatched a hold of the man’s thick wrist and twisted against the bone. Her eyes widened when the man failed to be flung to the ground.
"What the fuck!" Heart thumping at her sudden loss of power, Faith kicked the man in the hamstring. The man stumbled forward, falling facefirst onto her rising knee. Blood crimsoned out of the man’s nose as Faith snapped a backfist at the man to her left.
"Owww!" Faith groaned as the man grabbed her arm at the wrist and elbow, forcing it to hyper-extend. Pain flaring through her elbow, Faith brought her foot down hard on the man’s instep.
He screamed and releasing his grip, dropping onto the grass. Faith made a dive for safety only to squeal when one of the men snatched a hold of her hair and propelled her to the ground.
Faith kicked out the moment her ass hit the ground, her heel connecting with her assailant’s crotch. And the a foot crashed into her head and she didn’t know any more.
* * *
Oleg Lushin stared down at the unconscious beauty, a bruise already forming on her forehead. He had to admit to being impressed. Surprised, out-numbered, and robbed of her powers, she’d still put up a considerable fight against him and the others.
But failure hadn’t been an option. His glorious majesty was not one who tolerated failure in any manner, no matter the excuse.
Oleg looked towards his companions. "Take her," he ordered. "And remember, should anyone stop or question you, show them your diplomatic passports."
* * *
Xander couldn’t stop grinning as the elevator carried him up to his thousand dollars a night suite. Six hours in the presence of the stars of the greatest TV show of all-time, and the purchase of several exclusive memorabilia items. Man, Faith was going to be so impressed.
"Or maybe not," Xander chuckled as the elevator doors opened and cold reality hit. Faith just didn’t get ‘Babylon 5’. Which was just about his girl-friend’s only imperfection.
Well, if you ignored her hair-trigger temper and lack of diplomacy, which to be honest was difficult.
Xander’s grin widened as he unlocked the door to their suite and swung it open. Stepping onto the fluffy carpeted room, he let out a shout. "Honey, I’m home…" His voice trailed off as he belatedly realised the suite was empty. Brow furrowed, he checked the bathroom before shrugging and grinning. Faith had probably gone on to a club. "My girl likes to party hard."
Xander chuckled. He was just glad he wasn’t with her. Partying with his girl was fun and always an experience, but he didn’t have a Slayer’s stamina. It was nice to have the occasional early night.
Xander began undressing. He could lie to himself and pretend he was going to wait up for Faith, but he had every intention of getting in the king-sized, four-postered bed and going to sleep.
After all, he had wakening up next to the world’s most beautiful woman to look forward to. What could a ‘nerd’ want?
* * *
Pedro Morales stared distastefully towards the four men loading a long crate into the cargo hold of a plane. "There could be anything in that crate, guns, drugs, stolen technology, anything!" he groused. "And we can’t even take a peek inside, much less confiscate the cargo!"
Salvador Sanchez chuckled humourlessly. "We might be U.S. Customs but they have diplomatic immunity and that’s it."
Morales hawked and spat on the runway’s tarmac. "I’d sooner trust Colombians or Iraqis. You know who rules their country!"
* * *
His steel gauntleted fingers drummed impatiently on his throne’s armrests. He looked up as his prime minister entered. "Well?"
The government official gulped at his hard hone but quickly rallied. "The
package’s in the air and on the way here, sire."
He smiled. "Excellent, excellent. Have her suite readied."
FIC: MC 56. Aug ’02 – Slayer’s Strength (3?)
Xander’s eyes fluttered open then narrowed when he realised Faith’s side of the bed appeared undisturbed. Brow furrowing, he threw aside his sheet, sat on the edge of the bed, and stretched, yawning as he did so.
Rising, he strode to the bathroom and knocked on the door. When there wasn’t any answer he opened the door.
Empty. His worry growing, he hurried to his cell resting on the bedside table and checked for any missed messages. "Damn." Now he was motoring past worried and right onto scared. Lips suddenly dry he tried Faith’s cell. "Pick up, pick up."
When he didn’t get any answer from Faith, he tried Tara’s number. After seven rings he got a sleepy reply. "Xander," Tara mumbled, "this better be important. We didn’t get in until after two." Tara burped. "And I think I’ve got a hangover."
"I really hope it isn’t important," Xander muttered before raising his voice. "Tara, have you heard anything from Faith?"
There was a brief but almost unbearable pause before Tara spoke, her voice clearer than before. "No I haven’t, why what’s wrong?"
"S…she’s missing, I haven’t heard from her since we got in town yesterday." Xander heard but couldn’t care less about the tremble in his voice.
"Okay," Tara’s worry was also evident. "Don’t panic, have you tried the All-Seeing Eye?"
"No." Hope flared in Xander’s heart. "I haven’t. Give me a second." Hope died within him at what he saw. "It’s all black," he dully retorted, "she’s dead."
"N….no," Tara squeaked. "Not necessarily. S….she could be somewhere really dark or unconscious." The witch paused. "Get dressed and meet us at our room in five minutes. We’ll go down to the biker convention and see what we can find."
"Okay, thanks," Xander hung up.
* * *
Oleg stared at the chained and drugged brunette imprisoned in their plane’s cargo hold. He hoped the restrained ingénue wouldn’t hold a grudge when they landed in his homeland. After all, it would be difficult to remain in his master’s service when the young woman became his lord’s wife and their nation’s countess.
* * *
Kennedy resisted the urge to tremble at the look on Xander’s face and the apparently electrical charge in the air surrounding him. Whenever something happened to Faith, something seemed to burn the joker out of the jester-warrior, destroying his affable mask and leaving behind only a cold, merciless killer.
Tearing her eyes away from her suddenly almost unrecognisable friend, Kennedy looked around the biker convention. Her heart quailed at the size of the park the convention was being held on, the number of beer and refreshment tents, and the dozens of exhibition booths. Even in the early morning there were already hundreds of people there, yesterday there must have been thousands. "It’ll be like finding a needle in the haystack," Kennedy mused quietly.
Apparently not quietly enough, because Xander’s gaze snapped towards her, eyes filling with an ice-cold intensity. "If this is too hard or it’s too early for you, why don’t you go back to the hotel and leave me to it?"
"That’s not what I meant!" Kennedy’s own temper flared. "Look around you, Xander! Look around! Look how big this place is!"
Xander’s mouth opened, his eyes hardening still further. Tara stepped between them. "We’re not here to fight!" the honey-blonde reprimanded. "We’re here to help Faith! Besides the size of this place isn’t important!"
"It isn’t?" Kennedy was relieved when Xander tore his eyes away from her to stare demandingly at her girl-friend. "Why not?"
Tara paled slightly at Xander’s intensity but continued. "The way I figure it, someone isn’t going to be able to take Faith out unless they’re a really powerful magician or a magical creature of some sort. All I have to do is track down any major magical power sources in the vicinity and we’ll have a start at least."
"That sounds like a good theory," Xander grudgingly replied. "How long will it take?"
"While some of us," Tara shot them both a wilting glare, "have been wasting their time bickering, I’ve been tracking. Follow me."
With that Tara set off. Kennedy sighed as she sheepishly followed. Normally her girl was as quiet as you got, but when she got a bee in her bonnet….
Kennedy came to an abrupt halt when Tara stopped suddenly. "Ooooooh boy," Kennedy moaned as she caught sight of a jaw-droppingly handsome man sat astride of a gleaming motor bike. Her heart fluttered like it had never done before for a man. But what a man. He was tall with an athlete’s body, lean and muscular. But it was his face, seemingly carved by Michael Angelo and painted by Da Vinci that was the real prize. "I just gotta-."
Kennedy started forward. "Don’t!" She hissed angrily when Tara grabbed her arm and pulled her back. She spun to face the witch. If this bitch thought she was going to steal him for her she was sadly mistaken. "He’s an incubus."
Kennedy’s eyes fluttered uncertainly as she recalled the creature’s legend from her Watcher’s lectures. An incubus was supposedly a demon that took human male form to entrance women, draining their life force during the act of sexual intercourse.
"You’re certain?" Xander barked.
"He’s," Tara swallowed, cheeks flushing. "He’s making me feel things I’ve never felt. And I can feel the enchantments rolling off him. Kill him, Xander!"
"Okay," Kennedy’s breath caught when Xander strode forward, a fire burning in his eyes that threatened to engulf the entire park. Her mouth opened to shriek a warning but nothing came out.
And then Xander was thrusting a short sword deep into the demon’s belly and back-hand slashing a second blade across its throat. A split-second later and the demon’s head flew off its shoulders, and it toppled to the ground, dissipating into a black ooze as it crashed to the ground.
Kennedy took a step back when Xander turned back to them, eyes still harder and deader than stone. "Was that all you sensed?"
Tara shook her head. "No, there’s something of magical power somewhere three hundred yards to the left."
"Show me," Xander nodded curtly before starting off in the general direction.
"Oh no," Tara moaned as they reached the entrance of a beer tent. The witch pulled up her flowing skirts as she hurried over a hexagonal amulet resting in the mud. "This is Faith’s!"
"Slayer’s Strength," Xander’s dark eyes flickered with a desperate desolation. "It must have fallen off during her fight. Another dead end."
"No, no." Tara shook her head, eyes fixed on the amulet. "It’s different, there’s inscriptions on it I’ve never seen before." The witch paled as her gaze snapped up, frightened gaze tearing into Xander. "I need to see Leo now!"
FIC: MC 56. Aug ’02 – Slayer’s Strength (4?)
Greenwich Village, New York
Doctor Strange put down the first edition Dickens he’d been reading, brow furrowing. Uncrossing his legs, he rose and began striding around his Victorian-style study. The lamp-lit room was his sanctuary, filled not only with his magical tomes, but also first editions of the classics – Dickens, Wordsworth, Twain, and the like.
And now someone most unwelcome was attempting to breach his magical defences. He began preparing an incantation that would give the would-be invader a bloody nose.
His eyes narrowed to slits as he recognised a friend together with the most unwelcome interloper. "I suppose it would be impolite to keep them out."
Two glowing lights materialised in front of him, gradually coalescing into the forms of Tara and a handsome man in his mid-thirties. Strange chuckled, unfooled by such petty magics. "Tara," he smiled at his protégé and student before turning a rather more unfriendly glare on the stranger, "a Whitelighter. You’re fortunate you came with Ms. McClay, otherwise you’d have found yourself in a most difficult situation. I’m most untrusting of your masters."
The ‘angel’ stared warily back, clearly mindful of his power. Then Tara stepped between him and the White-Lighter, palm raised. "I…it’s my fault Leo’s here. I….I needed to get here fast."
Strange cursed himself for not previously noticing the young witch’s distressed condition. "What’s wrong, Tara?" he queried.
"F…Faith’s g…gone missing," the witch held out a shaking hand. Strange held out a hand. The wicca dropped an amulet onto his palm. "This is the only clue."
Strange’s eyes widened as he recognised the inscriptions on the medallion. "Tibetan and Romany, but they weren’t there before when I inspected it." His heart racing, he looked up at the New Mexican native. "You realise what this means?"
"Yes." The witch nodded woefully. "Doctor Doom has Faith."
"We need to speak to Xander immediately," Strange decided. A second later and he was muttering a spell.
* * *
Dr. Doom smiled as he watched the sleeping beauty reclining on the four-postered bed in her elaborately decorated cell. Up close and in person she was even more breath-taking. Lustrous black locks billowed under angelically lovely face, smooth skin gleaming in the room’s light, while the covers over her failed to conceal her heavenly curves. Just as alluring was her personality. The Slayer had an unquenchable fire and an ever-lasting loyalty to the people and principles she held dear.
She would make a fine co-ruler once her new reality sunk in.
* * *
"Doctor Doom is one of the world’s foremost geniuses, as well as being an accomplished magician and occultist. In addition he has the cushion of diplomatic immunity thanks to his rulership of Latveria, and his permanent armour has certain powers including flight, force field, energy blasts, and superhuman strength."
Xander listened silently until he’d finished his report. "And you think because of the Tibetan and Romany inscriptions, he’s behind Faith’s kidnapping?"
Strange worried about the deadness in the young man’s eyes. He looked very
much like someone about to do something exceedingly stupid. Gathering himself,
he nodded. "Doom studied Tibetan magic under monks and his mother was a skilled
Romany witch. The inscriptions weren’t there when I originally inspected the
amulet. From what I’ve been able to decipher, while ‘Slayer’s Strength’
originally increased Faith’s inherent abilities and powers the moment Doom
activated the spell, Faith lost all her powers."
"Okay, thanks." Xander nodded. "I’ll need to know everything you can tell me about Doom." The young man looked towards Kennedy. "Ken, I want you to phone Tony, I’ll need a plane."
"Xander!" Strange gasped. "You can’t hope to take Doom on on your own!"
"Can’t I?" Xander’s eyes bored unflinchingly into him. "Doom isn’t giving me a choice. He took my girl. What am I supposed to do, send him a wedding gift?"
Strange sighed. While Faith was Xander’s greatest strength, it appeared she
was also his greatest weakness. "Xander, just think about what you’re
"Are you going to help me or should I leave right now?"
* * *
Faith blinked as she awoke, light shining in through the barred oval window. "Oval window?" Faith mumbled as she threw aside her sheets and sat up, suddenly conscious of both the weaknesses of her limbs and her lack of clothes. She looked around the medieval style bed-chamber, wincing as the memories of the previous day flooded back.
She’d been kidnapped. The next questions were by who, for what reason, and where was she?
Faith started slightly at the sound of the painting hung behind her bed sliding aside to reveal a monitor screen with an armoured face staring back at her. "Greetings Faith. It is an honour and a pleasure for Doom to finally meet you."
After hurriedly wrapping a sheet around her torso, Faith stood and glared at the monitor. "Listen Robbie the Robot, you do not know who you are fucking with!"
"On the contrary my dear," the man chuckled, apparently unconcerned by her
outburst. "Doom has been preparing for your acquisition for quite some time. I
know everything there is to know about you."
"Yeah?" Faith snapped. "Then you’ll know what happens to any mother-fucker dumber enough to mess with me and my crew!"
"And if your friends are so foolish as to come here, I will present you with their heads as wedding presents."
* * *
"Doctor Doom has kidnapped Faith!" Stark exchanged shocked looks with James before glancing towards the youth prowling his private office. "Xander, I have a number of contacts in the super-hero community-."
"There’s no time!" The young man interrupted. "I’ll deal with this myself!"
Tony raised an eyebrow. Xander’s temper was running away with him, leading him into ill-considered action. Doom was hardly a mere demon lord or Master Vampire, he was well Doom. "You’ll be taking the Brotherhood with you though?"
"I can’t," Xander shook his head and smiled bitterly. "The Brotherhood invading a sovereign country? That’ll give anyone in government who doesn’t like us the perfect excuse to attack. This is an one man mission."
"You can’t!" Tara cried.
"No way!" added Kennedy.
Xander didn’t look away from him even as he responded to his companions’
protests. "Chances are I won’t be coming back. I’m not taking anyone with me on
"Listen to me Xander Harris!" Tony blinked at the unexpected fire in the normally meek witch’s voice. "You don’t have a monopoly on loving Faith! You’re not cutting us out, mister!"
Xander backed away from the enraged wicca. "Okay, okay. Just don’t turn me into a toad."
"If you don’t want me to use my diplomatic or super-hero contacts what do you want?" Tony demanded.
"I want Silent Fury."
Stark gaped. "How do you know-." Stark shook his head. "Forget it, doesn’t matter. Xande,r you know I’d do anything for Faith, but you can’t fly!"
"Yeah," Xander winced. "I was kinda hoping you’d supply the pilot too."
"Well there’s one person whose both good and crazy enough for this," Stark mused.
FIC: MC 56. Aug ’02 – Slayer’s Strength (5/?)
Washington National Airport, Washington DC
BRING! BRING! BRING!
"Oh that’s great," he mumbled at his phone’s naggingly insistent ring, "five hours into my first leave in six months!" He forced his head off the pillow and reached sleepily for his phone, picking it up at the third thumble. "This better be real important!"
"You were very interested in Silent Fury when we met at that congressional
banquet two months ago. Does that still stand?"
All of a sudden he wasn’t tired any more. "Stark, is that you?" he queried as he sat up.
"It is," the flamboyant inventor confirmed, "I noticed you didn’t answer my question."
"And I noticed you’re not denying Silent Fury’s existence any more," he rejoined.
"Look Pitt," the wealthy genius snapped, "I haven’t the time or inclination to fence with you. I urgently need someone to pilot Silent Fury for me. I thought of the airman who’d rescued me when I was in ‘Nam, the best pilot I’ve ever known. But if you’re not interested…
"I’m interested," phone resting in the crook of his neck, he grabbed his pants off the floor where he’d tossed them and started pulling them on. "I’m just a little confused."
"You’ve heard of Latveria?" Stark queried.
"Of course I have. It’s a small Balkans nation ruled over by Victor von Doom, a regular tyrant if I ever heard of one."
"That tyrant has kidnapped a girl to be his queen." Pitt raised an eyebrow even as he pulled his shirt on. She must be quite the girl. As a rule kings didn’t go around kidnapping peasants, and hadn’t for a few centuries. "I want you to fly in a trio to rescue the girl, using Silent Fury."
"A trio against Doom?" Dirk said. "I don’t like their chances, and I’m a
"They’re not exactly normal," Stark retorted. "Neither is the girl. All you need to know is that both she, her boy-friend, and another girl who’ll be accompanying you are all considered Uranium-Level."
"Oh really?" Pitt angled for further information. Impressive, for all his adventuring and connections, he’d never met an Uranium-Level operative before. Even so, Doom himself was considered amongst the very elite of Uranium-Level classified people, those considered more dangerous than him perhaps numbering a dozen at the most.
"Sorry," there was a note of grim humour in the scientist’s voice. "That’s
"Classified?" Pitt shook his head. "I’m pretty sure I have a higher clearance that you."
"Just call me the girl’s god-father," Stark evaded. "How soon can you be here?"
"Give me the address," he started pulling on his boots. "I’ll be on my way."
* * *
The grey craft had a sleek triangular body with two short wings, the hanger lights beaming down on it giving it an eerily cold feel. "This is the Silent Fury, 12% quicker and 15% more manoeuvrable than any jet currently in service. However what makes it truly unique is a metal alloy created and patented by Stark Labs. The alloy makes the jet not only 10% more durable during close-quarters manoeuvres, but also invisible to both radar and missile guidance systems."
"Cool," Xander replied to Stark’s lecture.
"Very cool if it gets us into Latveria in one piece," Kennedy commented.
"So this is Silent Fury." Xander turned to find a tall, muscular man in his late forties with craggy features, dark wiry hair, and emerald eyes. "Nice." The interloper turned towards Stark. "When are my passengers getting here?"
"That would be us," Xander stepped towards the stranger. "And you are?"
"This is Dirk Pitt, an USAF majors with three DFCs and a Silver Star-."
"Oh," Xander interrupted Stark, "the deputy director of NUMA." Xander nodded. "I’ve heard of you." He smiled slightly at the pilot’s shocked look. "I like to keep up."
"That’s great, ‘cause I have no clue who you are?" commented the pilot.
"Your passengers, when do we leave?"
* * *
"Are you alright, Xander?"
Xander started slightly at Tara’s soft voice in his ear. They were in the back of Silent Fury speeding towards Latveria. The near soundless flight and blandly cramped cargo hold left him with little to do but just think about what they were going to do, the risks they were about to endure. As bad as facing a whole brainwashed nation or an impregnable castle, far worse was the thought of going up against the land’s tyrannical ruler.
Realising Tara was staring inquisitively at him, he forced a smile. "It seems
as if we spend our lives bouncing from crisis to crisis."
"Makes life fun that way."
Xander smiled wryly at Kennedy’s comment. "True. But maybe we can try and get a few days’ vacation after this is over."
"I can’t see Faith liking a vacation," Kennedy laughed.
"Maybe we can go to Australia," Xander smiled at his earliest memory of his girl. "Get her a job crocodile wrestling." He laughed at the others’ puzzled expressions. "Don’t worry, you really had to be there."
* * *
Dirk smiled as he guided Silent Fury through the sky. He really wanted to perform some aerobatics but with their apparently urgent mission there wasn’t time. Maybe on the way back.
But while he handled their rather pedestrian flight, he thought about just who his guests were. There were more than a few wild rumours floating about Stark these days, quite apart from his much talked about involvement with Iron Man. But that was all he had heard, wild rumours that not even the Admiral and the Senator had been either willing or able to confirm.
Still, he had a few clues. His passengers were close friends of Stark, so close that they were able to borrow one of the inventor’s most highly classified projects. He was carrying a trio to rescue a fourth, so they were evidently a quartet. They were all young, real young to be in this business. And yet three of the foursome were apparently Uranium-Level operatives.
Put all those apparently unrelated threads together and they could only be the much rumoured Mithras Quartet. Dirk grimaced as he realised that left only one question.
Just who were the Mithras Quartet?
FIC: MC 56. Aug ’02 – Slayer’s Strength (6/?)
Doom’s metal boots echoed on the corridor’s paving stones as he strode towards the stairs that led to his heart’s desires’ quarters. He’d placed her in the highest room of the highest tower in his castle. All day he’d attended to matters of state while occasionally sneaking a look at his beautiful prize through the surveillance cameras secreted in her room. All the time railing against the weighty matters that prevented him from finally meeting his love.
He halted and nodded at the guard posted outside his future queen’s door. The
man unlocked the door. "Thank you."
The moment he stepped through the door a wardrobe shoved up to the right of the entrance fell onto him. Wood splintered as it crashed down onto him. Doom chuckled at the girl’s impudence as she lunged at him, shoving her effortlessly away while taking care not to hurt her. "My dear, I admire your heart, I truly do. However even with your powers you were never a match for me." He placed a silky sequined dress on the bed. "And I am having a gas permanently pumped into the castle that although harmless to the general population saps your power."
"Get fucked!" the brunette leapt at him, swinging a haymaker that he easily caught in his gauntleted hand.
His other hand shot out to grab the girl around her throat. Careful not to bruise or choke her, he nevertheless lifted her off the ground, carried her over to the bed and dropped her on it, beside the dress. "My dear," he scolded, "that is hardly language befitting of Doom’s future queen. My guard will escort you to my dining hall in half an hour."
"Go to hell!" the naked brunette glared fearlessly at him, eyes spitting dark fire. "I’m not wearin’ any damn dress or sittin’ on any damn throne!"
"My dear," Doom remained unruffled in the face of the young woman’s defiance. "You will put that dress on, otherwise I will order several of my serving women to dress you. I cannot guarantee they will be gentle."
* * *
"My feet are aching."
"But not apparently your jaw," Xander muttered in answer to Kennedy’s continual complaining. Silent Fury had dropped them off two hours and ten miles ago before flying back off to America. Since then they’d been trudging determinedly through Latveria’s forests, Castle Doom’s gloomily gothic presence growing slowly closer. "Look," he raised his voice, "there’s a village just ahead. We’ll steal a car or something when we’re there. Maybe a hay-cart."
"Have you thought how we’re going to get out of the country afterwards?" Tara queried.
"Run like hell for the nearest border is about as much as I’ve thought of it," Xander admitted.
"Why am I not surprised?" Kennedy raised his hands at his glare. "You have at least thought how we’re going to get into Castle Doom?"
Xander glanced towards the looming stronghold, its medieval architecture and huge stone blocks combining to give it an indomitable and impregnable air. "Thought about it," he replied. "How I’m going to," he hurriedly carried on before either girl could protest. "I’m the only one who got taught snorkelling and underwater diving on our last visit with Casey aren’t I?"
"You just wanted to see us in wetsuits," Kennedy muttered.
"You’re swimming through the Kline and sneaking in through the dock?"
"I’m just grateful that Doom hasn’t filled his moat with sharks and put lasers on their heads. I mean what sort of evil overlord is Doom if he doesn’t do the basics?" Xander nodded at Tara’s query. "That’s about the size of it."
Tara shook her head. "You do remember what Strange said? All the guards, the scanners, the guards, and gas emitters." The witch shuddered. "Not to mention the torture chambers."
"I remember he’s taken my girl," Xander snapped as they entered the village, eyes widening at the crudely-bricked thatched houses, the entire hamlet looking like something from the middle-ages, Gathering himself, Xander strode over to the nearest car, a dust covered green saloon that had definitely seen better days.
Like sometime in the late sixties.
"Where do you think the -," Tara’s voice trailed off when Xander pulled a bike chain out of the Always Pocket, wrapped it around his hand, dropped a shirt over it, looked away, and punched through the car’s window. "Owner is?"
"Not here." Xander ignored the onlookers’ terrified mutterings. He suspected that the dictator didn’t tolerate any crime.
There was a lot he didn’t tolerate either.
"We can’t just-."
Mind filled with images of his beloved, Xander tuned out the witch’s continuing protests in favour of concentrating on hot-wiring the rusting vehicle. Xander grinned as the engine spluttered into life. "Get in," he ordered.
* * *
"Ah, my dear. You look truly radiant." Faith glared impotently at the armoured ruler. The king looked towards her escorting guards. "Leave us."
Faith started slightly as the banquet hall’s doors slammed shut behind her. The chamber she found herself in was long and wise, lavishly-illustrated paintings of Doom in battle with many of the world’s super-heroes hung from the left and right walls. The room’s centre was dominated by a long table of seating perhaps thirty, although it currently only accommodate one, Doom sat at its far end. The table itself was filled with ceramic platters of gloriously coloured fruits and vegetables, and steel plates heaped with cold meats. A livered waiter stood either side of the table, ready to serve. "Please my dear, take a seat."
Faith looked at the walls and smirked. "Damn, you must really hate yourself," she mused. "All those paintings reminding you of all the times you got your ass whupped."
The monarch stiffened. "Dear, do not press Doom. Sit down."
Faith looked towards the high arched chairs and then her captor. "The only place I’m taking one of those chairs is to the back of your fuckin’ head!"
"Please dear," there was a dangerous note in the armoured lunatic’s voice, "don’t be tiresome. I could order these two men to force you into your chair."
"Motherfucker." Faith pursed her lips as she noticed the waiters’ shoulder-breadth and cold eyes. She looked towards the filled table, conscious of just how empty her stomach felt. It didn’t do her any good to starve herself. Especially considering she needed to be as strong as possible in case she got a chance to run.
Not that seemed likely at the moment. Sighing slightly, Faith strode to the chair opposite Doom, her high heels clicking on the burgundy carpet.
"Better." The dictator nodded as she sat. "Now," Doom clicked his fingers, "what do you prefer, red or white wine?"
FIC: MC 56. Aug ’02 – Slayer’s Strength (7/?)
Xander glanced back at the witch and the potential. "How’s it looking Tara?"
Sweat glistened on the witch’s face as she looked back at him. "I’ve neutralised the spells surrounding and in the castle but that still leaves the electronic alarms."
"Let me worry about that." Xander looked towards Kennedy. "Look after her. I don’t want Tara disturbing in mid-spell."
Kennedy’s nod was the last thing he saw before plunging into the Kline’s aqua-green river. The water rippled around him as he swam through the river, fishes swimming around him as he headed unerringly to the castle, the oxygen from his tank ensuring he was able to keep well below the surface. He kept his eyes fixed on the readout screen before surfacing at the docks, water sliding off his wetsuit. Reaching up, he grabbed the dock floor and began pulling himself up. "You there!"
"Why is nothing," Xander grunted as he pulled himself up onto the dock and rolled out of the way of a kick to his torso, "ever simple!" His own heel slammed into the guardsman’s crotch. The sentry purpled and doubled up into Xander’s flipper kick to the jaw.
"Sorry ‘bout that," Xander muttered as the man fell limply into the river, water splashing as it consumed its catch. Xander rose and hurried into the shadows, quickly stripping out of his wet-suit, stuffing it back into the Always Pocket, and yanking out some weapons.
Then he craned his neck back and peered up at the grimly towering castle. "Faith," he shook his head. "Why are you always getting me into these scrapes?"
He scowled as he saw another guard charging towards him, assault rifle in his hands. Xander yanked out a silenced .32, dropped to one knee, sighted, and fired. Crimson blossomed on the guard’s chest, his lips parting in a grimace as he fell onto the dock, and rolled over its edge, hitting the water with a splash.
Xander looked around, searching the gloomy shadows until he was satisfied there was no else to deal with then headed to the castle’s rounded rear entrance, a portcullis with water running through it, a narrow walkway to either side. The sound of rushing water filled his ears as he crept across the ledge leading into in the roofed access.
Xander pressed his back into the rough-bricked wall and edged sideways past the portcullis. The rushing died down as he skulked past the steel gateway. Xander paused as the back of an oblivious sentry loomed up in front of him.
Gathering his nerve, Xander crept up behind the watchman. When he was about two feet from the man he leapt the distance, grabbing the man by his head and slamming it into the wall.
The night air reverberated with the crack of the man’s skull. Xander dropped the body to the ground and stepped over it, edging around the corner and peering up. Seeing a doorway to his left, he hurried to it, keeping to the shadows every step of the way. Once there, he found the door locked, and pulled out a mini-plastic explosives charge, sticking it under the lock before creeping back and pressing the detonator.
The lock blew with a small pop, smoke’s arid stench filling his nostrils. After taking a breath, Xander pushed the door open and walked in.
* * *
"Doom considers Mozart the finest of all the composers. Bach, Beethoven, Handel, and Tchaikovsky all have their moments true. But none can compare to the master!" Doom’s gauntleted fist slammed into the table, its crockery jumping at the impact. His gaze turned to the beauty sat at the table’s far end. "And you, dear girl, what say you?"
The brunette’s dark orbs smouldered as she replied. "I always wanted to be the Motley Crue tour groupie."
Doom gritted his teeth. History, food, drink, the arts. No matter the subject his wife to be had a smart answer for everything, following which she would immediately clam up. She was like a fiesty mare, and like a wild equine she had to be broken before she could be ridden.
It was unfortunate, but his mere presence appeared insufficent to intimidate his future bride into servillity. Perhaps a few hours in the re-programming unit would adjust her outlook. He’d have to be careful though, he wanted a docile wife not a mindless zombie.
Doom’s brow furrowed as an internal alert beeped inside his helmet. He quickly scanned the information before rising. "It appears there is a disturbance within the castle. Your friends will have to be dealt with."
The brunette’s eyes blazed with an unquenchable fire. "You hurt any of them and I’ll gut you like a fish!"
Doom chuckled, unfazed and amused by the curvy beauty’s hot-tempered defiance. "I’ll bear that in mind." He walked to the door and opened it, glancing to the two guards flanking the corridor. "Take her back to her holding cell. I have matters to attend to."
* * *
Faith fumed as the two custodians frog-marched her through the castle’s dimly-lit corridors. Doom might have a few airs and be wicked smart, but for all that he was like all the guys she’d known ‘fore Xan who’d treated her at best like a pretty ornament.
And he’d made her wear a dress.
Faith forced herself to calm down. She might be temporarily stripped of her powers, but she’d been training hard for five years. And even before that, she wasn’t ‘xactly a shrinkin’ violet. No way was she just waitin’ to be rescued.
Faith stopped and glared up obstinately at her escorts. "I ain’t movin’ another inch." The moment the two men made to grab her shoulders, Faith stepped back and drove her left elbow up and into the short of the two men’s throat.
The man doubled up, face greying as he slumped against the wall. Faith didn’t bother to try and turn to face the second man while in her high heels. Instead she slammed her stiletto into the top of his foot, gleefully impaling him.
"Aaaaah!" The man stumbled backwards.
Faith took advantage of the respite to pull off her high heels, then spin to face the two men and crash her shoe’s heel into the shorter man’s throat. "Ooooh!" he gasped and gurgled as he fell onto his back, face greying as he struggled for air.
"Bitch!" Faith hissed as the remaining man grabbed her by her hair and flung her into a near-by table, knocking both her and the table to the floor, the vase that had been on the table shattering on impact. "Our master choses you above of my country-women and this is how you re-pay his generosity?"
"’Bout right." Faith agreed as she kicked out at the man’s groin the moment he was in range. The guard twisted at the last moment, her foot bouncing off his thigh rather than his crotch. Her flung shoe didn’t miss the target though, cracking against the side of her assailant’s head with enough force to burst open a bloody gash over his left ear. The moment the man slumped against the wall, Faith reached behind her, grabbed the small table and swung it up and into the man’s head, the table hitting the man with enough force to splinter.
"Ooooof." The man grunted, knees folding under him as he fell onto his back, limp body sprawled up on the floor.
Fighting in a dress really sucked, Faith shook her head as she pulled herself up on the wall and started down the corridor, leaving the crumpled bodies in her wake. Now all she had to do was find her big goof and save him before he got himself into trouble.
FIC: MC 56. Aug ’02 – Slayer’s Strength (8/?)
Xander crept through Castle Doom’s darkened passageways, ducking in and out of alcoves as and when guardsmen rushed by. "Of all the-." Xander shook his head. Rushing though a mazey castle with no clue where his girl-friend actually was wasn’t his smartest idea. But what choice did he actually have?
"Damn megalomaniacs always stealing other guys’ girls, why can’t they get
their own?" Xander muttered. "Wha-!" Xander gasped and fell forward as
steel-tipped spikes flew out of the wall to his right, hitting the ground in a
forward roll. He'd barely begun to rise when a ceiling slab directly above him
dropped. "Ah hell!" Xander cursed as he jumped out of the plummeting stone’s
way, his eyes widening as a paving stone directly under him slid away.
Xander kicked out, feet pushing off the stone behind him, and arms reaching for the ledge ahead. "Yes!" Xander gasped as his fingers took a tenuous grasp of the ledge, the rest of his body crashing against the unyielding stone. Arms and shoulders protesting with the effort, Xander pushed up the wall with his feet, pulling himself up onto firmer ground, and scrambling to his feet. All the while he looked around; vainly searching for the cameras he guessed must be there, recording his every movement.
"Listen you asshole," he growled. "I hope you’re having fun because I can guarantee you won’t be when I get my hands on you."
* * *
"Fun?" Doom chuckled as he watched the young man’s valiant efforts. The boy was determined, he’d give him that, but it would avail him little in the end.
Doom rose and exited his private quarters and headed to confront the intruder should he manage to evade all his obstacles, it was unlikely, but one had to allow for eventuality. The boy would be a welcome distraction but nothing more. After all, Doom defeated the likes of the Fantastic Four, the Black Panther, Daredevil, the X-Men, and Spiderman. After them, what possible resistance could an unproven youth offer?
* * *
Sweat plastered Xander’s clothes as he crept out of the comfortingly darkened corridors and into a suspiciously well-lit room. He started into the chamber, nervous eyes constantly moving.
The chamber was vast, its walls adorned with tapestries displaying the castle’s owner in victorious battle with many of the world’s super-heroes. The room was illuminated by a glittering chandelier dangling from its high, wood-beamed ceiling, while the floor was carpeted in burgundy.
Xander pursed his lips, hairs prickling on the back of his neck. There was something very wrong. Quelling his trepidation, he started to head towards the arched portal at the room’s far end.
"Alexander, the man who has much of the super-hero community up in arms. Friend of Professor Xavier, Doctor Strange, and Blade. The man who managed to thwart my attempt on Tony Stark’s life a few years ago."
"You hired those werewolves to kill Tony?" Xander stared at the resplendently imperious figure who’d stepped out to block the far doorway. "You’ve given me another reason to hate you, not that I actually needed it."
Doom was tall, but Xander couldn’t tell his build thanks to his gold armour suit worn beneath a sweeping, cowled green cloak. Ignoring his instinctive fear of the legendary figure that Lucas was rumoured to have used as inspiration for the Star Wars villain ‘Darth Vader’, Xander spoke. "Where’s Faith?"
The dictator seemed to smile or smirk behind his metallic mask. "Safe." The
Balkans monarch raised an armoured palm. "Unlike yourself."
Xander dived to his left as a concussive bolt flew out of the despot’s palm, pulling out his automatics as he did so. The Desert Eagles bucked in his hands as he fired, every shell hitting its target. The monarch laughed as the bullets bounced off his suit of armour. "Come now, you’ll have to do better than that!"
Xander gritted his teeth. "Okay then." He drew a grenade and flung it across the ground to land between the dictator’s feet as he flung himself back the way he’d come. "How am I doing now?"
The room roared and shook to the grenade’s explosion, several of the near-by tapestries igniting and plaster falling from the ceiling. "Not bad." Xander groaned when the villain stepped into the room’s centre, his armour unscathed by his attack. "But I’ve defeated better."
"To hell with this!" Xander leapt up, Mossberg 590 loaded with armour-piercing rounds swinging up.
"Indeed, Doom bores of this too." A wave of energy hit him before he had chance to pull the trigger, lifting him from his feet and flinging him backwards, head cracking against the wall.
* * *
Doom chuckled as the unconscious youth slid down to the ground, blood trickling from his head. Brave but unpowered, he wasn’t a particularly tough challenge.
It was unsurprising that Stark hadn’t confided his secret identity to his fallen foe. He was just too vulnerable.
Now there was a question what to do with him. Doom grimaced as he powered down his suit’s force field and stared at the crumpled man.
"You son of a bitch." Doom gasped as something clunked against the back of his head. His temper flared as he turned to face the coat-stand wielding Slayer. "Get away from him you bastard!"
"Enough of this!" He raised his palm and fired an energy bolt. The bolt smashed into the brunette beauty’s ample upper-chest, the force of the blow 360ing her into an ungainly bundle on the floor. Satisfied that his troublesome bride-to-be was out cold, he turned back to the boy and pointed at him. "This ends now."
"No, it can’t. You can’t."
FIC: MC 56. Aug ’02 – Slayer’s Strength (9/9)
"M…mother." Doom spun to face the flickering spectre stood behind him, her dark, flowing mane surrounding her disapproving features. After a second drinking in her appearance he reluctantly shook his head. "You’re a trick," he accused, voice thick with rage and pain.
Cynthia Von Doom smiled sadly. "You know better than that Victor. Use your sensors. It’s me."
Like every dutiful son Doom obeyed his mother. His eyes widened when the sensors beeped their results. "Mother? How?"
"All the just souls trapped in Mephisto’s realm teamed together to make a crack in the hell’s walls so I could come and warn you." His mother glanced at the crumpled bodies. "You can’t separate them."
"Why not?" He demanded, knowing he sounded petulant but not caring. "He is not worthy of her! He can’t even protect her!"
"Together they are fated to save the world. Without them," the light in his
mother’s eyes dimmed, "the world will be dragged into hell."
Doom shook his head. "I’ve heard of this Mithras Brotherhood. Let them save the world."
"Victor," his mother shook her head disapprovingly, "you’re not this thoughtless. Without him, the Mithas Brotherhood will fall apart and the world will be left defenceless to hell’s forces. Without her," his mother looked towards the unconscious Slayer, "she is the fuel that powers his heart. Without her, he will not be motivated to risk it all to save everyone."
Doom looked towards his prize, heart filling with desire. "She’s mine," he declared, voice hoarsening.
"She’s not a horse to be owned, Victor," his mother reproved. "The only way she will ever be truly yours is if you should break her spirit and heart. Then she will not be the woman you covet. Victor," his mother paused. "If the devil wins completely I can never be free."
Doom dropped to his knees, loneliness threatening to crush him. "Mother," he whispered, voice trailing off.
"I know Victor," Cynthia smiled sadly, tears brimming in her eyes. "I love you too."
* * *
Xander started as he awoke, sitting up to find the night sky’s cold fingers caressing his face. He looked around to find he was laid in a meadow, Faith laid beside him. And Doom stood over them both. "So you are awake?"
Xander was half-way to his feet when the eastern European monarch froze him. "As you can see your paltry abilities are no matches for mine." Xander’s muscles clenched and writhed as he tried and failed to lunge at the armoured figure. "I could have you killed that easily." The dictator clicked his gauntleted fingers. "Unfortunately certain facts have come light that would make such an action unwise. Besides," Doom glanced down at Faith’s unconscious body, "she would never forgive me. To make her truly mine I would have to change who she is and why she calls to me." Doom paused. "I’m not prepared to do that."
"Glad we’re agreed on something," Xander growled.
The despot seemed not to have heard him. "Should you ever hurt her, I’ll hunt you down and ensure your death is a slow and painful one."
"I’d never hurt Faith!" Xander snapped, eyes flaring even as a chill ran through him at the tyrant’s sincerely delivered threat.
Again Doom appeared not to have heard him. "The upcoming battle will be a severe one. I will be there for it."
"I don’t need or want your help!" Xander snapped.
This time his comment got a reaction. "Don’t’ be a fool!" The monarch’s eyes flashed within his mask. "This isn’t just about you, it’s about the world!" Doom collected himself before looking down at Faith. "She’ll be awake soon. Love and care for her as she deserves or I will do it for you. Take her, leave here, and never return."
"Yeah, ‘cause this place has so much to recommend it to the tourist trade," Xander snarked. "And our friends?"
"They are where you left them," the despot turned back to his castle. "Now leave here before I grow tired of your company."
"Yeah?" Xander gasped as control returned to his limbs. "That goes double for me." Turning to Faith, he scooped her into his arms.
* * *
"I’m sorry Victor," Stephen Strange sighed as he watched Doom stride back to his castle through his Orb of Agamotto.
Guilt threatened to crush him. It had been unimaginably cruel to cast illusions impersonating Doom’s mother and use Doom’s all-consuming obession with orchestating her freedom to manipulate Faith’s own freedom. Yet at the same time he couldn’t just stand by and let Xander be killed, and Faith enslaved.
He’d been watching his young friends’ adventures since their arrival, ready but reluctant to put his hastily thrown together plan into action. Once it seemed Xander had failed to rescue Faith he’d been forced to act.
Strange glanced at the goblet of wine sitting on the table beside him. He doubted a hundred bottles would remove his mouth’s bitter taste tonight.
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