FIC: MC 48 Jan ’02 Vendetta (1/?)
"Kill the heathen!"
Windsor gasped as he struggled through Taunton’s cobbled streets, the chasing crowd’s jeers bombarding his ears and their previous beating leaving him woozy and pained. If not for a hastily cast confusion spell, the mob would have torn him apart.
As it was, he leaned back as he reached a road ending only to see the rush torches highlighting some of his pursuers just ahead. Instead he turned back and started the route he’d came, all the while muttering curses under his breath.
If only those interfering arses from the Watcher’s Council hadn’t turned up.
He coughed as he slipped on a wet cobble, pain jarring up his leg as it twisted out, tugging on his groin muscle. He reached out, snatched a hold of the wall and steadied himself. It had all been going so smoothly, his murders of the locality’s ‘fallen women’ as well as hugely entertaining him was also creating a climate of fear that he could power his magics for months.
Now though, that was ruined, and he’d be lucky to get out of this in one piece. "Scotland next time," he mused as he looked left and right, peering uselessly into the inky darkness. "The buggers never go up there." There was nothing identifying him back at his lodgings, indeed he’d clubbed his landlady unconscious and set the building on fire when he’d realised his discovery. All he needed to do was find his way out of here. "Soft-bellied Watchers get nosebleeds if they go that far up-."
"There he is!" A half-ecstatic, half-frightened scream came up from behind him.
Windsor’s heart trembled when he cast a glance over his shoulder to see half a dozen ignorant peasants charging up behind him. "Lord of the fiery depths why have you forsaken me?" he mumbled piteously as he started off, injured left leg dragging behind him.
He turned the corner to his right. "No!" He gasped as his right leg slipped on some water. Normally he’d have been able to right himself, but pain flared up his injured left leg, sending him crashing face first into the wall, nose shattering under the impact. Windsor almost choked as the thick, salty blood entered his mouth, but he’d drown in panic long before blood claimed him.
Heart thundering, he pushed up and turned to limp off, all too conscious of the time he’d lost. "Blasphemer!" a heavy fist crashed into his mouth, knocking him back into the wall. "Trickster!" His head bounced off the unyielding brick, but he didn’t have chance to register the pain when another man sunk a hard blow into his stomach. "Hellspawn!"
Vomit rose in his throat as he doubled up, the ale he’d drunk earlier in the
evening spilling out to splatter the cobbles as he fell to his knees. He raised
his eyes in time to see another fist crashing down to knock teeth out of his
already aching mouth. "Remember this day," he squealed as one of his attackers
grabbed his hair and yanked his head back. "Remember this day as the day the
Council brought justice upon your impious head."
Even despite his predicament, Windsor couldn’t help but smile as he
recognised his attacker. "Dominic Travers!" he crowed. "You’ve a heart as black
as anybody’s, but you lack the courage to follow it!"
The Watcher scowled, his mouth opening. And then feet and fists were crashing into his body. Leonard screamed as bones shattered and muscles bruised, his ears pounding with blood and the mob’s animalistic roars.
"Nay!" Suddenly Dominic’s imperious roar cut through the screaming mob’s bloodlust. "This is not the way. Even now my allies build a fire, tie him. We shall burn him, burn him with our lord’s righteous fire!"
"Burn him! Burn him! Burn him!" Came the cry as the mob carried him through to the town centre. He could offer no resistance as he was tied to a stake, straw and kindling at his feet.
"Burn in hell with your master, Windsor," Dominic’s spittle hit him on the cheek as he lit the fire.
Windsor smiled through his broken teeth as revelation struck. "One day! One day!!" he screamed as the flames licked at his feet. "One day I will see the end of your line!"
* * *
Late November ’01, Newcastle
"So long," he cackled as he entered the dusty room, eyes hungrily searching the nondescript looking surroundings, "it has taken so long to find you."
It had taken over six months in fact, ever since the disgrace, he scowled at even the mental mention of the terrible events that had torn his family asunder. He’d toiled through a variety of places – old smoking clubs, back-alley occult shops, almost-forgotten museums, pristinely private banks, windswept mansion houses, creaking churches, and mouldy castles, doggedly following the clues laid down by his father.
All leading him to this location. The floorboards creaked underfoot as he strode across the room with its peeling wallpaper and mildew in the corners of the cracked ceiling, its only furniture a dog-eared settee. He sniffed at the smell of fish and chips, and Newkie Brown. "Dear god," he drawled, he knew the owners of the house were Northerners, but even so, they should have some standards.
Still, they’d had discipline. He’d merely spoken the words and they’d hurriedly left. Either to the pub or the take-away he shouldn’t wonder.
He walked over to the window and gingerly pulled the threadbare and filthy curtains shut before walking into the centre of the room. Calming his pounding heart, he wiped his sweat off his forehead before speaking in an arcane form of Hittite.
A bright light briefly enveloped the settee before quickly disappearing. He walked over, crouching before the steel-grey box that had appeared in its centre, the sweat he’d just wiped away reappearing immediately. Ignoring it, he drew a knife and raised his hand over the box before drawing the implement over his palm, hissing slightly as it cut through the flesh. "My blood is the key," he murmured as the first drops hit the steel box’s lid.
He gasped as the box top slid back to reveal the papers hidden within. Here were his father’s organisation’s foulest secrets – the renegades who’d dared to betray their calling. He grabbed the papers and began reading about ‘The Stricken’, those whose crimes were so foul they’d been struck off their roll of honour. "Post," he sniffed before putting aside the first file. A clumsy, ineffectual idiot. The second was rather more interesting, a man who’d defected to the Nazis during the second world war, selling occult information, but while his crimes were heinous, his powers were unremarkable. The third of the files though….. There was power here, a deep and terrible power twined with a sadistic ruthlessness.
"Oh yes," he smiled. Finally the stain would be removed from his family’s honour by the Slayer’s blood and tears.
A/N: Xover overload coming up, blame Chris. -;)
FIC: MC 48 Jan ’02 Vendetta (2/?)
"Whoa!" Faith gasped as she climbed out of their rental, a tinted-windowed SUV, to stare at the building in front of them. The seven-storey building’s walls were made entirely of one-way glass, the sort they used in Police interrogation rooms, making it gleam in the Silicon Valley mid-morning sun. The walls themselves swept out to the sides, making an entire square covering several thousand feet. Faith shaded her eyes as she looked towards the six foot rock stood in the centre of the neatly-trimmed lawn between the executive parking lot and the building itself. Her eyes narrowed as she read the sign nailed into the rock’s craggy surface. "A-Team Industries, you," she glanced at her red-faced and shuffling boy-friend, and laughed, "fucking dork!"
"It was my favourite TV program," Xander half-smiled, "at least before ‘Babylon-."
Faith interrupted her man with a theatrical yawn and a wink. "We takin’ the tour or what?"
"I guess," Xander started up the sixty foot paved path leading to the front entrance, Faith following behind, Tara and Kennedy bringing up the rear.
As they strode up the path, Faith’s eyes were everywhere. Despite the ‘A-Team’s, her lips quirked up in a smirk, plush building and well-groomed surroundings, her practiced eye picked up all the tell-tale signs of high security. The nine foot high thorny hedge surrounding the entire compound, some three hundred yards around so no to be obvious but still there, the lack of cover between the hedge to the building for a thief to hide behind, the floodlights and CCTV cameras fixed on the road into the compound and the aluminium sliding gates that could only be opened via security inside the building. "Place is a damn fortress," Faith mused.
They came to a halt under the entrance’s out-cropped roof, the two CCTVs on its corners swivelling in to impersonally observe them. Faith looked at the glass door; she bet it was bullet-poof, maybe even strong enough to take a car being driven into it. Everyone turned to look at Xander. Xander coughed before leaning into the intercom to the door’s left. "Mr. Harris to see Mr. Lyle," he said.
"Sir," the responder had a deep voice and a commanding tone. "Please press your thumb into the pad before you." Faith’s eyebrows rose as Xander obeyed.
"Positive identification," intoned a metallic voice, the building’s glass door sliding open.
"Creepy," Faith muttered before stepping inside. The reception was a high-ceilinged, brightly illuminated space, with a gleaming crest-shaped desk pressed against the right wall, the ‘A-Team’ logo hanging on the wall behind the three receptionists who looked like they could have been models in their spare time. The floor was wood-panelled perfection and soothing mood music played in the background. At the far end stood a trio of glass elevator tubes and a door to a stairwell.
"I like this place already," murmured Kennedy, her eyes fixed on the receptionists.
Faith joined Xander in chortling when Tara shot Kennedy a glare. "Trouble in paradise," she murmured.
"Yeah," Xander started to the receptionist desk.
"Mr. Harris," a hitherto unnoticed door built seamlessly into the wall behind swung open and a close-cropped, hard-eyed man in his late-forties strode out. Despite his suit, Faith made him as military straight away, it was something in the way he moved or the watchfulness in his eyes that gave him away. "An honour to meet you, sir." The man shook Xander’s hand and shook it. "Tom Ryan, Colonel retired, and head of A-Team Industries’ security. Mr. Lyle is in his office on the second floor. If you’ll come with me?"
"Sure," Xander nodded. Faith joined the others in traipsing after the security guard, conscious of the CCTVs following their every move. "There’s a lot of security," Xander commented.
"Yes sir," Ryan nodded, the elevator doors sliding soundlessly open after the security chief used a card swipe on the sensor beside it. "We have a staff of fifty-six guards, all licensed to carry firearms. At any one time there’s fourteen guards in the compounds, all men and women from the forces or intelligence agencies and with the best security clearances we can get. We have two groups of two patrolling the grounds, two groups of two doing a walk-through the building, two in the control centre behind the reception desk’s wall, two at the rear entrance, and two guarding the elevator to The Upper-Level."
"The Upper-Level?" Kennedy queried.
"You’ll see later, Ms Lucas." Ryan smiled briefly before continuing. "We have CCTVs at all the inner and outer entrances, in addition to the elevators. The elevators are controlled by a card system and the outer doors use the palm print system. The outer windows in addition to being one-way are also made of the world’s toughest glass. Also, you didn’t see it on the way in, but everyone is x-rayed on the way in and out of the building to make sure they haven’t taken any laptops, CDs etc. We also sweep a random floor at the end of every day for bugs. Access to each project area is controlled by keypads, each requiring a six digit number with only the project members, myself, Ms. Bennett, and Mr. Lyle having access to. The outer, elevator, and project area doors, and safes are all alarmed. The Upper-Level elevator is voice and palm-print locked. At night, pressure and motion sensors are also turned on. Should any alarm be triggered, the place goes into complete and automatic lockdown, and only I, Ms. Bennett, or Mr. Lyle have the codes required to unlock the building."
"And the computer security?" Tara asked.
"Designed by Ms. Bennett herself," Ryan replied as the elevator began its silent ascent. "Laptops aren’t allowed on the premises. We have full four levels of encryptions with each person needing a differing password to decrypt each level. People being assigned to specific computers and we have intrusion-detection that allows us to check what any user is doing at any specific time and that pings the server and Ms. Bennett with an warning should someone attempt an access either on a non-assigned computer or in an area they’re not authorised to use. While the entire building apart from The Upper-Level is fully integrated, computers on the network are firewalled against emailing or posting to addresses outside the building. The two lower level servers are kept in separate vaults at opposite ends of the building, with each being alternately backed-up at the end of every hour."
"Wow," Faith’s head swam at the mention of all this security. Place sounded better locked up than Fort Knox or the Pentagon.
"And what work are the subsidiaries doing?" Xander asked as the elevator opened with a slight hiss.
"My area is security," Ryan replied as he led them down a felt carpeted corridor, light gleaming in through the windowed walls. "Mr. Lyle will explain all that." Ryan stopped at a door, and spoke into the intercom. "Your guests are here, Mr. Lyle."
"Thanks, Ryan," the bad-tempered security expert’s voice crackled through the intercom. "Did he bring the Slayer with him?"
Ryan glanced at her before speaking into the intercom. "He did."
"Never mind," Faith’s brow furrowed. What the hell was that supposed to mean. "He is paying the bills around here." Faith glared at the others’ strangled chuckles. Oh suddenly, ‘Father freakin’ Time’ had a sense of humour did he? "I suppose I’ll have to let them in."
The door clicked open. Faith followed Xander into the room beyond, Ryan closing the door behind them and carrying on his way. The office was long and spacious, its only furniture, a small, walnut-coloured desk at the far end with a computer and various papers on it, a small safe in the wall above them, light beaming in through the walls bathing the room’s balding, potato-faced occupant in light. "Xander, Tara, Faith," Lyle sighed before directing an accusatory look at Xander, "did you have to bring her?"
Xander half-smiled. "I have to have my secretary when I’m touring my business don’t I?"
"Funny fucker," she muttered under her breath.
"Please," Kennedy groaned, "don’t start taking dictation."
FIC: MC 48 Jan ’02 Vendetta (3/?)
Face ablaze, Tara stepped forward, clearly anxious to change the subject. "What is The Upper-Level?"
Brill shook his head. "I’ll show you that later," the elderly computer expert promised, "but first," he nodded towards the couch stuffed to the side, "please take a seat. I’m sure you’ve some questions about A-Team Industries?"
"Just a few," Faith dryly responded. "Like how many people work here?"
"All told," Brill smiled, "we have over seven hundred employees. All headhunted from the best companies and universities." Faith whistled. "Split between the Industries’ subsidiary companies – White Knight Innovations, Zeppo Computing, and Slaynet. In addition to our administration and accounting department."
Xander shook his head and gaped like he was struggling to take the numbers in. Finally he managed to speak. "And what are these companies doing?"
"Slaynet’s at the forefront of military developments, in particular the use of VR for training troops, the development of battlefield extraction drones-."
"Say what?" Faith interrupted.
Lyle shot her an irritated look. Yeah, like the others knew what the hell he was talking about, she just had the mouth to ask was all. "A robot that drags stranded wounded out of the battlefield. We’re also currently developing a plasma weapon for use by tanks or jet planes, and robotic pack mules to carry supplies in difficult terrain. In addition we’re also working on radar warping technology."
"Sounds lucrative," Kennedy commented.
"In the long run it will be, Ms. Lucas," Lyle nodded. "Hundreds of millions probably."
"I don’t want anything sold to hostile nations," Xander put in. "That could be embarrassing to come up in battle against our own tech."
"I took that as read," Lyle nodded gravely.
"And Zeppo Computing?" Tara asked.
"That’s Angela’s baby. She has her people doing a lot of ‘feel good’ stuff, educational software helping dyslexics to learn to read and write, imaging software for the partially sighted, a small business accounting program, and something she calls ‘Tidy House’ which is a suite of databases that enable you to store your DVDs, comics, books, etc, in linked but easy packages. There’s also some compression and file transfer software, and some anti-virus software, spyware, and ad blockers as well as an intuitive parental-blocking system."
"Cool, and White Knight Industries?"
"We’re busy designing a nerve receptor unit that makes artificial limbs more
responsive to their wearer’s commands, a photo machine that can do the work of
both a MRI and CT scanner with less radiation output, and a machine that more
accurately measures the vitals of a person either in a coma or under general
anaesthetic. That’s in addition to our work in making home security equipment
cheaper to buy and easier to install."
"Sounds good," Xander approved. "And estimated profits for the next year for A-Team Industries?"
"This year, what with setting this place up, and only signing contracts etc," Lyle paused. "No profits, there’ll be a twenty million dollar deficit. But next year, we’ll break even. The year after, your share should be in the region of thirty million, the year after you’re looking at fifty million, and by five years – one hundred and twenty million. In ten years, you’ll be making half a billion a year."
Xander smiled tightly. "That’s good, this can be the money I live on while using the rest to find the Brotherhood. I assume there’s room for expansion?"
"We could fit another three to five hundred people in here," Brill replied. "And we’re currently building an annex that would hold another three hundred. Ms. Maclay," the communications expert glanced towards Tara. "Our accountant has the paperwork for you to look over to sign for your project."
"Say what?" Faith joined the others in staring at the reddening witch. "What’s this sis? Started a girl’s only burlesque club?"
"N…no." Tara’s blush deepened. "X…Xander gives me a quarter a billion a year, Kennedy and I will never spend the interest off that-."
"Have you seen how many pairs of shoes she buys?" Faith snarked.
"So I’ve opened half a dozen orphanages across the country, paid their way into links with top schools so the kids have the best chance in life, and put together a scholarship program for any kid who gets their high school diploma, and wants to go to-."
Suddenly she was hugging Tara, eyes misting over with the selfish thought there’d never been someone like Tara to help her when she was a kid. "You’re the best, sis," she whispered in the witch’s ear, "the absolute fuckin’ best."
Xander smiled as she pulled away. "Should have thought of that myself, well done Tara."
The still reddening witch turned her attention back to Brill. "You’ve told us all about the projects, but what about the staff? I hope they’re well treated?"
Brill grinned at the question. "Salaries are in the industry’s top ten percent, as are the accompanying medical and pensions packages. We also supply free crèches and cafeterias, an indoor gym, swimming pool, bowling alley, and a games room complete with the latest arcade games, snooker tables, and other amenities."
"Impressive." Xander complimented before pausing. "And what about this Upper Level?"
Brill sobered. "Ah, the hub of our operations." The man glanced at his watch before rising. "Everyone should be in by now. Please, follow me."
Lyle politely but steadfastly rebuffed their questions until they’d left the elevator on the sixth floor, walked its felt-carpeted corridors, and reached another, this time traditional rather than glass, elevator flanked by a pair close-shaven, solidly-built guards. The men stiffened at their approach, only relaxing slightly when they recognised Lyle. The computer expert pressed his palm into the scanner and spoke into the intercom, the doors sliding soundlessly open a second later. "Your answers are upstairs."
FIC: MC 48 Jan ’02 Vendetta (4/?)
The moment the doors closed, the former spy spoke. "Anyone who works on the lower six floors has no idea about The Mithras Brotherhood, but on the seventh," the intelligence agent smiled. "Well, we’re building a back-up system."
"A back-up system?" Kennedy queried before anyone else had chance to. "What sort of back-up system?"
"You’ll see," Brill’s smile broadened. "They’re all here."
Xander glanced at Faith, trepidation building at whatever was to come. All these people, well even the people downstairs but at least they didn’t know it, worked for him, what would they think of working for a kid who hadn’t even finished college?
Xander started slightly as the lift began to open, Faith nudging him with her hip and winking at him. He forced a smile back at his girl-friend’s confidence. They stepped out to find Angela waiting for them. "Hey," the hacker greeted with a grin, "come to see the BatCave have you?"
"Dorks," Faith muttered, "I’m surrounded by fuckin’ dorks."
The floor looked like the others, felt carpet, walls and walls of glass, only broken by wooden doors, everything very simply set up. "Currently we use only a tenth of our capacity on this floor, but I imagine that’ll grow as we do," Brill led them to the first door, the gold plaque on it identifying it as ‘Tech’.
Angela stepped around the computer expert, quickly entering the keypad code
to unlock the door. The moment the door clicked, Angela grabbed the handle and
swung the door open, leading them into an office that was filled with computers
and electronic gadgetry. "Most of my time now is spent working on encryption and
security upgrades to the Mithras software, so now Milo Hoffman," a thinly
handsome man tapping at a computer looked up and nodded before returning to what
he’d been doing, "and The Napster", a short man who looked strangely like Oz,
didn’t even look up, "run daily hacks on all the intelligence services –
Bilderberg Group, CIA, S.H.I.E.L.D, the Vatican, MI6, Mossad, the Illuminati,
all the major players, collate them into a report and send them out. The only
one we can’t hack is Wolfram & Hart, they use magical encryption in addition to
technological. They additionally provide any hacking expertise that any of the
other Brotherhood units require."
"Napster? Ain’t that like the music-sharing software?"
Brill and Angela had barely begun to groan when the Oz-lookalike leapt up and span to face Faith, his face reddening with outrage. "Don’t mention that Fanning to me! He stole the idea from me! One day I’ll show that sneak-thief-."
"Damn," Faith stared at the enraged hacker, his girl-friend unflustered by the man’s rage, "you’ve got a lot of temper in so short of a body. Why doncha just chill?"
Before the hacker had chance to speak, Brill moved to the room’s third occupant, a podgy looking man with nervous eyes soldering a small circuit-board. "This is Marshall Flinkman. He formerly worked for a shadow organisation called SD-6 who he erroneously believed was the CIA before we found and re-educated him. Now he works for us, designing and building the surveillance, counter-surveillance, and various high-tech espionage equipment we send to you."
The chubby man looked up, face crimsoning as his eyes shifted from Faith to Kennedy to Tara, and back to Faith. "Hi, gah, oh."
"You let idiots in do ya, Brill?" Faith queried.
"Why not?" the stone-faced hacker responded. "Xander has you."
"Hey!" Xander groaned as Faith looked towards him. "Defend your girl-friend!"
* * *
"All of Brill’s quirky remarks aside," Angela spoke as they were leaving the
room, "Marshall is really quite brilliant, it’s just his social skills are
"We understand," Kennedy snorted, "we’ve got Faith."
"Xander, stand up for your girl-friend!" Faith protested.
"Oh no," Xander shook his head. "Leave me out of it. I am not getting involved. Besides, if I’m really lucky things might develop into a cat-fight." Xander sighed as both she and Kennedy glared at him. "Guess not then."
Angela and Brill exchanged bemused looks. "And they’re supposed to save the world?" queried the elderly former spy. "Guess we should move to another dimension then."
"Everybody thinks they’re a comedian." Faith heard Xander mutter. Then her boyfriend looked up, eyes shining with excitement. "You know this palm print system, outside of this building who has access?"
"You, Ms. Spenser, Ms. Maclay, and Ms. Lucas," Angela replied.
"Right," Xander nodded. "Then I want you to enter Faith’s uncle, Mr. Stark, and Charles Gunn’s thumb prints into the system so they have access to the Upper-Level too."
"Consider it done." Brill Lyle agreed before stopping at a door plaqued as ‘Arms’. "Yaz still has his underground warehouse, but comes in here whenever we’re having a meeting. He brought his seconds with him today."
The door swung open, revealing a room with a long table in the centre, three people sat at it. "Hey babe," Yaz greeted.
"Hey asshole," Faith greeted. "Who are your friends?" Faith looked towards the two men sat in the room with the basketball-tall weirdo, one of them was a shaven-headed African-American with a weight-lifter’s build and the other a middle-aged white guy with hard eyes. "And whatever you’re paying them, it ain’t enough if they’ve gotta put up with you every day."
Face split in a grin, Yaz opened his mouth. "Luther-."
"Hey," the black man said in a voice so deep it made Barry White’s sound squeaky.
"Stickell was nominated for us by Ethan Hunt," Brill continued, "who he used to work with in IMF. Luther’s a weapons expert, as is Dr. Thomas Rourke," the white man didn’t shift, just nodded slightly, "formerly of the CIA."
"How’s things going boss?" queried Yaz.
Xander started slightly. Dumbass with his issues, he didn’t have nothin’ to feel inferior to anybody about. "Not bad," Xander smiled uncertainly. "Maybe we could talk about an extension to your contract?"
"Before that, maybe we should see your lawyer?"
"My what now?" Xander queried as they left the arms room behind.
Faith noted that Brill’s smile was a good deal more serious than his previous ones. "All the information that we’ve managed to collate, your own personal experiences, the experiences of other affiliated or non-affiliated demon hunters, and various nations’ intelligence agency reports, suggests that Wolfram & Hart are a major, if not the major, player in supernatural occurrences at the highest levels. If we’re to go head to head with them, we can’t just do it on a battlefield."
"Court and board rooms can be battlefields too," commented Tara.
"Precisely," the communications expert agreed. "To that end, I’ve scoured the nation for as much legal talent as possible. Currently we employ six senior lawyers, fourteen junior partners, and thirty paralegals, in addition to a dozen legal administrative staff. For the most part, they work on A-Team Industries’ matters, however the six senior partners know about the Brotherhood, and can and will be called on should the Brotherhood and its members need legal assistance. As the Brotherhood expands " Lyle stopped at a door plaqued ‘Legal’, and opened it. "Ladies, gentlemen, meet the Brotherhood founders."
Inside was a long boardroom style desk, seating half a dozen people. First to his feet was a bald, bespectacled man with stern eyes. "Theodore Hoffman, senior partner," the man had a soft yet commanding voice. Faith just bet he got everybody’s attention with that voice.
"Eugene Young," the second man to rise didn’t get your attention with his voice, he got it with his sheer hulking bulk.
"You’re from Boston, right?"
The African-American smiled at her query. "I am, Ms. Spenser," he confirmed. "I know your uncle."
"Yeah, how’s that?" Faith asked.
"I used to be a P.I. before being seduced to the dark side," the big black chuckled at her furrowed brow, "becoming a lawyer."
"Jessica Devlin," a stylishly dressed blonde introduced herself, "formerly of the LA DA’s office. I’ve run into Wolfram & Hart a few times in my line of work. Love to have a chance against them on a level playing field."
"Brad Chase," introduced a granite-jawed, blue-eyed dude, "I know your uncle too." Faith raised an eyebrow, this was turnin’ into a reunion tour. "His team rescued me from a vampire seven months ago."
"Ainsely Hayes," introduced a blonde woman with a far too tight white blouse for a woman of her age, have some pride woman, "former Associate White House Counsel."
The last two lawyers, a Darby Shaw and a Joanne Galloway were introduced, and then they were moving onto another office, Faith’s head still spinning as she continued to struggle to comprehend the size of HER man’s organisation.
FIC: MC 48 Jan ’02 Vendetta (5/?)
"Of course," Lyle continued as they re-started their journey, Faith swore there was no freakin’ end to these corridors, "every organisation needs an accounting department, to check each group’s books and get them any item they have difficulty getting for themselves. Ours is currently an one-man department. Primarily because no one would be nutty enough to work with him."
"Kettle, pot, and black," Faith muttered with a caustic look at the crotchety spy.
The spy ignored them in favour of leading them into another office. The next man they met was a short, white-haired guy with a hooked nose and an over-active mouth. "Hello," the expensively dressed man was up and pumping their hands before they were even through the door, "hello. Pleased to meet you all Leo Getz," he forced a business card into each of their hands, "whatever you want, Leo gets! Get it?"
"Yeah, hysterical," Faith stared warily at the strange little man. What, Xan was employing nutcases other than Kennedy now?
"And this is?" Xander queried.
"This is Leo Getz," Brill introduced, "an accountant Angela discovered in the Witness Protection program."
"An accountant?" Tara looked towards first the big-nosed money man and then Brill and Angela. "Why was an accountant in the witness protection program?"
"Ah," Brill smiled weakly. "Leo used to launder money for the mob, but got a little greedy."
"Do you want to repeat that again?" Xander looked towards Brill, mouth dropping open. "You put a guy dumb enough to embezzle from the mob in charge of my money? That’s just-," Xander shook his head. "No, I don’t have any idea what this is. Are you mad!"
Brill smiled at Xander’s consternation. "Relax, whenever we recruit someone for the Upper-Level, Angela firstly does a full background check, then we do a polygraphed interview, and finally those who get through the first two obstacles sing for Lorne. If he gives them the okay, they’re in."
"Okay," Xander shot the now wilting accountant a distrustful look, "Tara?"
"His aura’s a little grey, but he’s trying," Tara replied.
"Well," Xander’s shoulders relaxed slightly, "good to have you on board." Xander looked towards Brill. "Who’s next?"
* * *
Geez, Faith’s lips quirked up in a smirk, those so-called big-shots she used to run with in Boston would shit themselves if they ever met Xan. Her baby was a major player. "As in every organisation of any size, we need a publicity office," Angela explained as they stopped by another door. "While the vast majority of its job involves product releases etc, we have two employees who are aware of the Brotherhood and spend their time preparing for such a day that the Brotherhood and demons’ existence has to be explained to the populace at large."
"Oh wow," Xander looked thoughtful. "Good idea."
The door swung open to reveal a crease-faced man with a smile and blue eyes that just tickled at her nether-regions sat opposite another. "John Klein is a former Washington Post reporter Ray Quick rescued eighteen months ago," Lyle introduced the hunk, "when we started work here, I approached him to lead our publicity department."
"I was honoured," Klein replied.
Damn, his voice was almost as heavenly as his looks.
"Will Tippin," Faith glanced towards the stubbly, geeky-looking guy who nodded nervously at their massed inspection, "is a very resourceful, not to mention dogged gentleman. Six months ago, he was busy investigating A-Team Industries for a story when he stumbled across the Brotherhood. I explained to him what we are and what we do, and he agreed to stay quiet in return for a job."
"You were bought?" Xander glared at the older man.
"Oh boy," Faith smirked, "there’s a fox in the henhouse."
"No," the former journalist shook his head before reddening. "Well yes, but not in the way you think. This is all just exciting, so important. It’s the biggest story in centuries and I want to be on the inside of it."
Xander stared suspiciously at the man. "I guess that’s alright. But I wouldn’t even think of spilling your guts about the Brotherhood, that wouldn’t be wise at all."
"You’ll come after me?" Tippin gulped.
"No, worse," Xander glanced at her and smirked, "the only people in the world who frighten me will, her uncles."
"Oh yeah, ya don’t wanna Spense and Hawk chasing ya down," Faith agreed.
"Will’s doing a fine job," said Klein.
"Well if he says-," Faith clamped her mouth shut at Xander’s jealous look and Kennedy and Tara’s giggles.
Everyone was always picking on her. Probably jealousy.
"Wait," Xander placed his hand on the spy’s forearm as they exited the office, "why are you doing this?"
"Xander," the spy gravely regarded her boy-friend. "This Brotherhood’s an army. And an army’s not just about its soldiers."
"Oh right," Faith felt a surge of protectiveness when she saw the distress that flickered in her boyfriend’s eyes, "hadn’t thought of that." She wanted to pick up the weathered spy and fling him out of the nearest window for hurting her guy.
Except the SOB was right.
Damn him all to hell.
FIC: MC 48 Jan ’02 Vendetta (6/?)
"Library?" Faith exclaimed as she stared at the next room’s door. "I freakin’ hate those places. Having to be quiet and shit, ain’t me!"
"Believe me," she heard Kennedy’s mutter and saw the potential’s cocksure wink, "we know."
"Forget about the technology downstairs, this room," Brill pressed his palm into the reader, "is the most expensive in the entire compound." The computer expert chuckled at their sceptical looks. "Not every Brotherhood team has an occultist on board, sometimes they run across a sigil, demon, ritual, or spell they can’t identify," the door clicked open, "we created an occult department to help answer their queries."
The door swung open to reveal a long, wide room, made somehow cramped by the shelves upon shelves of books within it. The books came in a variety of covers – leather, metal, and animal-hide backed, sizes, ages, and according to the stickers stuck to the book cases –wiccan, shamanism, mythology, history, voodoo, alchemy, parapsychology, demonology, and many others, covered a vast array of subjects. The only space not taken up by books was a table in the centre of the floor covered with books, and seating two men.
"This collection is the finest occult library in the world outside of the Vatican, Wolfram & Hart, what the Council used to have, and your own Eternal Archive," Brill continued. "Every time a book of note comes on the market, we have our experts check it. If it’s authentic, we come in for it and bid high." Brill stopped and grinned. "We’ve even ripped off a few of the less scrupulous owners, relieving them of their collections."
"Way to go Brill," Faith enthused. "You cowboy, you."
The two men rose at their arrival. "This is Dean Corso," the computer expert introduced a short, goateed man wearing wire spectacles, "and this is Flynn Carsen."
"Wow!" Kennedy gasped. "You look like that doctor who saved my life in Chicago, just like him!"
Carsen smiled. "That’ll be my second cousin, John Carter."
"As well authenticating the books, updating the CDs as and when required, and advising teams," Lyle continued, "the men are working on a definitive cross-reference record of every encounter with each demonic species, their goals, weaknesses, that sort of thing. When it’s finished, they’ll load it onto a CD and send it out to the groups."
"Very cool," Tara approved.
"Oh gawd," Faith drawled. "Geek-out."
* * *
"Of course you’ve met our security chief, Tom Ryan," Brill led them out of the library and into the corridor, stopping at another door.
"Ex-military he said?" Xander queried.
"Yes," Angela nodded. "He was a Colonel with 1st Special Actions Group. I can get his personnel record for you if you want."
"Thanks," Xander forced back a sigh. These days he did more reading than a graduate student, and he didn’t even get college credits for it. "I’ll want every Upper-Level person’s records to read over."
"Of course," Brill nodded. "I’ll get them and put them on an encrypted CD before you leave. As I was saying we have a fifty-six strong staff of security personnel, all former army, intelligence, or law enforcement personnel. However only Ryan, and his three deputies are familiar with Upper-Level protocols and the existence of the Brotherhood."
Brill opened a door and walked in.
"Shane Schofield," an athletically built man wearing silver-wraparound glasses nodded at Brill’s introduction, "formerly a Captain in Marine Recon. Caitlin Todd," a pretty brunette aged maybe thirty smiled, "formerly of the Secret Service. And Jack Reacher," Xander’s eyes widened at the blond-haired giant standing close to six and half feet tall with massive shoulders and a thick chest, "formerly a Major in the Military Police."
"Well," Xander nodded uncertainly, self conscious in the midst of such experience, experience that he now commanded. "Thanks for all you do for us."
Caitlin dazzled him with a smile that left him blinded and had Faith snarling. "Mr. Harris-."
"Xander, please," he interrupted.
"Xander, I was, well we were wondering if you’d be interested in swapping some war stories, your group must have some fascinating tales."
Xander smiled self-consciously. "Yeah, I guess I could do that."
"As long as that all you’re swapping," Faith muttered.
"We’ll meet you in the canteen in ten minutes," Angela interrupted. "We have one more meeting before we’re finished."
* * *
"When setting up A-Team Industries we also put in a confidential counselling service for on the job stress that sort of thing," Angela continued as she led their group to the promised last door, "then when Jack Burton’s group rescued a shrink from a vampire who used to be a patient if you can believe that, we saw an opportunity."
"An opportunity?" Kennedy queried.
"Yes," Brill smiled wryly. "Every team has some sort of medical cover, paramedics, doctors, nurses, but what about their mental well-being? They see and experience some pretty horrific stuff. So we recruited Charles Kroger to supervise the social workers we have for A-Team Industries and to deal with any of our people who need help."
"Sounds like a good idea," Xander grimaced inwardly. Why couldn’t he have thought of all this?
By the time Brill had finished his explanation, they’d stopped at and opened a door into a room with a man who looked frighteningly like the Riddler from the old Batman re-runs. "Hello," the man rose from his chair and walked over to them, "it’s an honour to meet you. If not for the groups you set up, I probably wouldn’t be alive right now."
"Your job here must be interesting," Xander said for wont of anything to say.
The shrink smiled wryly. "After my last client, it’s an absolute breeze."
* * *
"Where do you intend to go next?" Angela asked as the beautiful brunette led them into the Upper-Level’s brightly-lit canteen, the four security personnel already drinking tea at the table nearest the window.
Xander winced at the sore point. "Thanks to all the coverage we have in California, Arizona, and Nevada, all vampires and assorted demons on the west coast have shifted their attention north to Oregon and Washington. We’re heading up there to see if we can get a group working up there."
"But not to Utah," Faith shuddered, "freaking Mormons creep me out."
"Damn," Xander sighed. "And I was thinking of asking Elektra, Phoebe, and Lara if they’d be interesting in sharing me with you in a polygamist marriage." Xander sighed again when Faith scowled. "So that’s me sleeping on the sofa tonight then?"
* * *
Late November ’01
"It’ll work, it has to work!"
Crispin’s fierce whisper cut through the night. He looked around, suddenly uneasy. All around was carnage, the wreck of an exploded building, stone, wood, and another assorted debris scattered out over what had once been one of England’s most powerful buildings. But now, now those that had brought it low would pay a terrible price.
He peered down at the pentacle he’d drawn in the ash and hesitated. This was a dark and powerful spell, one beyond his power to execute if not for the place he was using being a nexus of magical energies and the subject of his spell breaking an oath that linked him to this place. This wasn’t a resurrection spell, not quite, it would simply take the subject from his timeline some time before his death but after he broke his oath. Then, once he’d finished with him, the spell would return him to his proper timeline, unless the subject died in this time, then he would be returned by default.
He once again checked the candles flickering in each corner of the pentacle. Then he began chanting, his voice cracking occasionally as he uttered long-dead Akkadian. Suddenly a strong wind hit him, the force almost lifting him from his feet, and snuffing out the candles. Distressed by this interruption, he stepped forward to re-light the candles and start again.
And stopped as a figure appeared in the diagram’s centre, a tall thin man with severe features, wavy black hair, and deep-set eyes that were cold and dead like long-extinguished coals.
And yet the eyes seemed to blaze when they were directed towards Crispin. "Who are you?"
The man’s rasp cut through Crispin like a surgeon’s scalpel. Crispin managed not to flinch. "Crispin Travers, of the Watcher’s Council. I need your help to avenge the Council on a rebel Slayer."
"A rebel Slayer?" The man’s smile was as cold as winter’s first bite. "Well we can’t have a wench getting ideas above her station can we?"
FIC: MC 48 Jan ’02 Vendetta (7/?)
Portland International Airport
"Thank you," Xander nodded to the pretty but tired looking clerk sat behind the car rental desk as she passed him the keys to his just paid for Lincoln Navigator. After a final smile, he left the queue and strode over to where his three beautiful yet extremely annoying companions waited.
Xander sighed. All the way here they’d bickered. Sometimes he felt like opening the hatch and throwing himself out. "Got the car," he reported. "Let’s head to the hotel."
"Where we stayin’ X?" Faith queried. "Somewhere luxurious I hope?"
Xander raised an eyebrow. It wasn’t as if he had a choice in the matter. Well, strictly speaking he did, he corrected. He could either take Faith to a great hotel and have hours of fantastic, bed-breaking sex. Or he could take her to an average hotel and have hours of nagging about being a cent-pinching miser.
So, no choice at all, really.
"Yeah," he replied as he looked through the rental place’s parking lot, searching for the silver SUV he’d just rented. "I’ve got us The Benson Hotel, a registered building going back to 1912. It’s downtown, so it’s convenient for all the shopping, galleries, and museums."
"Yeah cool," Faith interrupted as they reached the car, "always look for a good museum, and you know me and art galleries, but what about the room?"
Xander chuckled at his girl-friend’s love of her creature comforts.
"According to the woman I spoke to, we’re booked into a deluxe room with a
king-sized bed, there’s our mini-bar," Faith beamed and gave him a thumbs-up,
"Big screen TV?" Faith interrupted.
"Yeah," Xander gave up. "Yeah, there’s a big-screen TV."
Xander looked towards Tara as he and Faith got in the front of the SUV, and Tara and Kennedy climbed in back. "What can you tell us about Oregon?"
"The British explorer James Cook was the first known white man to navigate the Pacific Northwest in 1778. In the war of 1812, Britain gained control of the Pacific Northwest, their Hudson’s Bay Company dominating the area. In the past few decades, visitors have been drawn to Oregon by its varied terrains of ski resorts, fishing villages, and towns."
"That’s great Tara," Xander chuckled. "And I’m sure we’ll get plenty of sight-seeing done, but I meant as regards demon-hunters?"
"Oh," he sensed rather than saw the witch’s blush, but knew it was there
anyway, "I’ll need the laptop."
"Sure," Xander passed the laptop to Faith who leaned over and passed it to the witch.
"Okay," Tara began to talk as he manoeuvred their ride out of the busy parking lot, "there are two groups of eight in Portland, one group of six in both Eugene and Salem-."
"That’s slim pickings," Faith commented.
"I hadn’t finished," Tara tartly replied. Faith winked at him, his girl-friend as always amused by ‘school-marm sis’, as she called Tara’s tone. "The southern counties of Lake, Kalamath, Douglas, and Harney have one six man mobile team. The north-eastern counties also have one six man team covering them."
"And anybody in all of these teams leadership material?" Xander queried.
Tara sighed. "Not really no. There’s no-body empowered, or with military experience beyond the two years’ mandatory or National Guard service. No Special Forces people."
"Damn," Xander grunted. He liked to have a talisman leading his teams, someone who inspired by reputation, powers, or experience. It made him feel better about funding the groups and then leaving them on their own, knowing he’d left them in good hands.
"What’s the plan, stud?"
Xander glanced at his girl-friend as he weaved their car through the city’s downtown traffic. "I’m not sure," he admitted. With Oregon and Washington having become magnets for demons and vampires he had to shut down the states and fast, otherwise the lives his groups saved in California and Nevada would only be lost in the Pacific Northwest. "How about Washington?"
"One group of ten in Seattle, two groups of eight in Spokane and Tacoma," the witch replied. "None of your usual choices for leadership in them either."
Xander grimaced. "Get a print out of all these teams. I’ll look them over when we get to the hotel."
"Damn," Faith cursed. "And I wanted to play ‘break the bed’ as well."
"Oh nice use of code," Kennedy snarked. "Nobody had a clue what you were referring to, not a clue."
* * *
"Whoa!" Faith whistled as she entered the hotel lobby, crystal chandeliers dangling from its creamy ceiling, walnut walls, marble floor, and a grand piano by the entrance, the place put the class in ‘classy’.
All in all, she couldn’t help feeling more than a little out of place.
Shoving the feeling aside, she linked arms with Xander as they started towards the elevator. Yeah, an easy few days in a backwater like this is just what they needed.
* * *
"This young lady has an impressive record," Windsor commented as he read through the long notes on the Slayer. Much had changed in the over one hundred and fifty years since his prime, but the Slayer spirit still chose beauties as its carrier.
Clearly a creature of exceptional taste if these ‘photographs’ were any guide.
"Impressive record?" shrilled his companion. "Her mother was a common whore, and this disobedient bitch is little better, she has the morals of an alley cat."
"Is that right?" Windsor’s eyes narrowed as he stared at his summonser. Crispin Travers was a short stocky man, who Windsor didn’t doubt would be running to fat in a few years, his eyes were a bitter grey and he carried with him an air of self-righteous indignation that clogged up the back of Windsor’s throat.
Another thing that hadn’t changed. The Travers family had always been arrogantly pompous prats.
Still, although he knew the younger man was clumsily baiting him, he couldn’t resist. "Oh yes," Travers nodded, thin blond comb-over fluffing up, "even before she was Called, she was considered a wild, untameable brat, lacking in any discipline." Travers sniffed. "Typically American."
"And quite troublesome," his eyebrows rose as he began to read of the Slayer’s later exploits. "Oh yes, she’ll have to be taken in hand." Damn hussy, rising above her station both as a Slayer and a woman, not respecting her betters. Something would most certainly have to be done. He paused to once again glance at his companion. "Perhaps we’ll need to book two tickets on those aeroplanes I read about?"
"Yes, yes, yes."
The moment the younger man had scurried out, Windsor put the papers relating to the Slayer down, and started to search through the filing cabinet before him. His search halted when he found a folder marked ‘The Stricken‘. "Yes," he murmured. "I’ve heard of them, but just what is he doing with a file on them?" His curiosity spiked, he began to look through the file. A cold anger ignited inside him at what he discovered. That little worm thought to trick and use him? "You have the tiger by the tail, Travers," he whispered, "the tiger by the tail."
FIC: MC 48 Jan ’02 Vendetta (8/?)
"Lookin’ good, stud." Faith wolf-whistled as her man came out of the bathroom wearing a new pair of black levis, matching denim shirt, and mid-thigh length leather jacket.
"Thanks." Xander grinned self-consciously before raising an eyebrow. "Could those pants be any tighter?"
Faith glanced down at her black leathers that hugged every curve of her behind and legs before looking up and smirking. "Only if I was a vampire and didn’t need to breathe, you like?"
"Well the males of the Pacific Northwest won’t be needing their imagination, that’s all I can say."
"I see myself as providing a public service," Faith smirked.
"I’m not touching that one," Xander threw up his hands and laughed.
"Not what you were saying an hour ago," she retorted before sobering. "Are we gonna go out, do some hunting?"
"Want to get your Slay on?" Xander queried.
"Well baby," she purred, "you know how ‘excited’ I get afterwards."
Xander gulped. "In that case we’ll be real quick."
"Words every girl longs to hear," she riposted.
* * *
Downtown Portland’s streets were well-lit, the city’s many skyscrapers beaming down on the foursome as they made their way through the bustling city. As night fall approached people hurried home after work while others hurried out, eager to party or drink their troubles away. Xander scowled, there was too much unfamiliar territory for them to easily cover. "Kennedy," Xander looked towards the potential, "you stick with me, Faith, you and Tara go to the east. You know the drill, look for bars with vampires, get them outside, slay them. You see any demon-hunting teams or get into anything serious, get in touch on the cells."
"Ya wanna go with her rather than me? Swing both ways do ya Ken?" Faith leered mockingly at the potential.
"Bite me, Faith," retorted the ebony-eyed potential.
"You wish, kid." Faith linked arms with Tara. "Come on sis, drinks are on you."
"Try and stay out of trouble!" Xander shouted after the departing duo.
Kennedy chortled. "Not much chance of that."
"Yeah," Xander reluctantly agreed.
* * *
Faith shivered as she left the fourth bar. The weather wasn’t what made her shiver, although the night’s chill was a hell of a contrast to the muggy closeness in the bars. Yeah, closeness, she shivered again. It was nights like this, when they split up and started trawling bars for demons, she got caught up in what might have been if she hadn’t got her powers or met Xander.
The course she’d been heading before all this, she’d been fighting it like hell, not wantin’ to become her mom, but the way she treated herself, she was headin’ that way. Every bar she went in without Xan, she saw herself in the girls sprawling over men desperate for their approval, their touch, their money. Someone powerless, with no self-worth or purpose, nothing to trade on but their body.
Faith took in a breath, grateful for the fresh air. Yeah, thank god for Xan. ‘Course, she smirked inwardly, her usually buoyant spirit returning, she couldn’t tell him that, boy had enough of an ego as it was.
"Faith," Tara grabbed her wrist and spoke in a murmur. "Those four men heading into the alley leading to the strip club, they don’t have auras."
Faith glanced towards the quartet of thickly-built dudes and nodded. "They
ain’t just johns, they’re vamps." Faith rolled her neck as she started after the
guys, hand reaching into her jacket. "Come on, sis."
"There’s four of them-," Tara began.
"I know, barely a warm-up," Faith sighed. "But we gotta make do."
"I was thinking we should call Xand-."
"You’re such a worry-wart," Faith scolded as she entered the alley. "Yo, boys!" The four demons turned to face her. "Forget about the club," she tossed her head back, full locks bouncing, "how about a private show." She grinned as the four demons began strutting towards her. "But first some fore-play."
The demons gasped as she pulled out a stake, but before they could react, her foot was crashing into the chin of the biggest demon, a six foot five muscleman with stony grey eyes. Even as the demon’s head snapped back, Faith was slamming her stake home.
The demon had barely begun to dust when her arms were grabbed by two of the remaining vamps and she was flung at the dusty wall. Faith laughed as she twisted into the wall, hitting feet first before spring-boarding back at the demons. "Come on boys!" she taunted. "At least try!"
She cross-body checked a burly chested six footer almost as wide as he was tall, the force of her impact knocking the two of them to the muddy ground. Faith grunted as one of the other demons yanked her up by her hair. Her elbow flew back, smashing into the demon’s jaw with jarring force.
The demon grunted, hand loosening on her hair. Faith took the opportunity to reverse leg-sweep his legs from under him, the demon hitting the alley’s trash cans with a satisfying crash.
The demon she had knocked to the ground was already up and throwing furious lefts and rights, face contorted in desperate rage. Faith ducked seamlessly between the blows before sinking her stake into the demon’s chest.
She’d barely a half-second to savour the victory when a trash can smashed into the back of her head, the steel denting with the impact, but still driving her to her knees. Faith rolled out of the way of a second swing, foot kicking up to crash into her attacker’s left knee.
The demon staggered away, face twisted in rage. Faith leapt up and charged the demon only to leap to her left to avoid the flung can. The demon anticipated the manoeuvre and caught her with a right that she barely managed to block on her shoulder. Ignoring the pain, she leapt into the air, grabbing an overhanging fire ladder, bringing it down hard so the bottom steel rung smashed into her opponent’s forehead. The demon slumped against the wall, a dazed expression on his rugged face. Faith grinned as she crashed her stake home.
"We should have called for help," Tara said disapprovingly as she wiped the dust of the fourth vampire off her blouse.
"Ah, they’d have had time to chow down on a four course meal of strippers and bouncers by the time Xan got here," Faith smirked unrepentantly. "’Sides it was fun."
* * *
"Impressive," Windsor murmured as he sidled back into the shadows, confident that the Slayer hadn’t seen him. Finding her had been simple, Travers had simply hacked into one of those computers and discovered where she and her companions were staying, tracking her had been rather more complicated. The Slayer had the usual enhanced spatial awareness and instinctive skills of her Calling, but some subtle cloaking skills had helped. Doubtless her wicca companion would have noticed them if she’d been looking for them, but she’d been too engrossed in her hunt to even consider they’d been followed.
Yes, the Slayer was impressive. Even more striking in person than in her photo, but more importantly, a formidable warrior, far better than the two Slayers he’d had the honour to see work in his time.
They’d need help.
He looked towards his companion. "Back to the hotel." He spun on his heel and started away, certain in the knowledge his companion would slavishly follow.
He knew a mindless sheep when he met one. Still, Travers would be useful until he was familiar with this world. And then he could send him screaming to meet his ancestors. A fitting end to a treacherous, untrustworthy bloodline.
And then he could start his work again. In this godless time there were so many unclean hussies that needed sending to judgement.
FIC: MC 48 Jan ’02 Vendetta (9/?)
"We can’t take them on just yet," Windsor mused.
"My family must be avenged!" Travers raged. "That treacherous bitch and her friends have to die!"
"And they will," Windsor soothed. "But a frontal assault against such an
enemy will be foolish."
"We know where they are!" Travers snapped. "A bomb would-."
"Do you know how to handle explosives?" Windsor demanded. After a second Windsor reluctantly shook his head. "Well, I’m a man out of time, I barely manage to operate those wondrous machines," he pointed towards the laptop, "much less explosives. We need to hire -."
"No," Travers shook his head. "I must do this myself, honour demands it!"
Honour? Windsor raised an eyebrow. What would a Travers know about honour? Shaking his head, he rose.
And caught the man sat opposite with a right cross to the mouth. Blood flew out of Travers mouth as he fell off the chair. "You idiot!" Windsor kicked Travers in his over-stuffed gut. He enjoyed the man’s wheezing for a moment before crouching down and placing his knee in the back of the Watcher’s neck, grabbing a handful of Travers’ waning locks and lifting his head up of the carpet. He savoured the terror in his weak-spined countryman’s eyes before speaking, his voice held dangerously low for barely needed effect. "What sort of Watchers are being bred today anyway?" he taunted. "The mission is all, do not worry about the pretties of how it is completed, only that it is. We do not have the ability to do take this group on our own. Just as the Slayer herself was always our tool," in his day, wenches knew their place," so now we need to find ourselves some tools. Understood?"
"Understood," bleated Travers, the fear in his eyes dulling and mixing with hate.
Not that he cared, hatred from such an insignificant man was well insignificant. "Good, then use that internet and find us some."
* * *
Faith giggled as she watched the chimps have a tea party. "And yet," commented Kennedy, "they have better table manners than some I could mention."
Faith shot the potential an innocent look. "Well we’re so glad you’ve noticed," she purred, "Xander and I have been at Tara to do something about your eating habits, but you know Tar, she’s shy. But I say, you have a pet you really should house-train them." Kennedy’s mouth opened and shut, her cheeks and eyes blazing. Faith turned back to him. "Damn that felt good."
"I can only imagine," Xander chuckled. "Where do you want to go next?"
Tara spoke up before either of the two could, her voice eager. "The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry looks really interesting."
"That’s one word for it," Faith winked at her sister before looping arms with him. "What we gonna do about the demon hunters in these parts?"
"I don’t know," Xander scowled. "I’ve read Tony’s discs four times so far but I just don’t see anyone in the files that I’d be happy leaving in charge of a large group. No one has the experience, skills, or the training."
"Ah," catching her boy-friend’s worried tone, Faith peered at Xander from over her Aviators. "No hurry, we’ve got plenty of time," she soothed.
"Except, we sorta don’t." Faith glanced up at his tight tone. Xander shrugged self-consciously. "I’m building an army for a war, Faith. I don’t know when or where, but I need to recruit and train as many people and as fast as I can. I can’t afford to make any mistakes."
* * *
Windsor followed the former Watcher into a dimly-lit room, experienced eye running over the quintet of hatchet-faced men sat on the room’s only stools. Somehow, Windsor guessed these weren’t the sort of men to politely offer their seats to strangers.
After a querulous sideways look at him, Travers began to talk. Windsor stepped back and examined the hard-looking thugs. Ruffians the lot of them, he decided. But they fit the purpose he’d selected them for, another test for the Mithras Quartet before his grand finale.
FIC: MC 48 Jan ’02 Vendetta (10/?)
"Oh I don’t know." Xander stared up doubtfully at the club, the entertainment centre’s front a kaleidoscope of flashing strobe lighting reflecting upon a see-through Perspex structure spelling out ‘Decadence & Delight’ built over the double doors. As gaudily bad as that was, the death metal coming out from the brownstone behind the sign was going to make his ears bleed. "I mean," he nodded towards the people bewilderingly queuing to get through the club’s entrance, a trio of tree trunk-limbed, shaven-headed bouncers, "look at the queue to get in!"
Queuing to get out of there he could understand, but in? Sheer madness.
"Ah, you’re with me babe," Faith pouted before fluttering her eye-lashes and expertly flipping open the top two fastened buttons on her silk blouse, meaning the damn thing was leaving far too much of lacy bra dangling out there. And that was without taking into account Faith’s too tight to breathe black leather pants that clung to every inch of her gravity-defying behind and perfectly muscled legs. "For me, queues don’t exist."
"Can’t imagine why," Xander murmured.
"Come on!" Faith grabbed his hand and dragged him across the street, his mule-headed girl-friend impervious to the queuing patrons’ glares and bellows. "Thanks boys," Faith winked at the bouncers as they parted like the Red Sea for Moses, "you’re all stars!" Faith crushed her lips to his as they entered, hands exploring his body in ways he really wished she wouldn’t in public. "Gals like me," Faith chuckled in his ear, "we’re the magnets that draw guys inside to spend their green, they wouldn’t keep me waitin’."
"Yeah," Xander looked around. The black plastic bar took up the entire far wall, the yellow fluorescent lights above it making, it gleam and the stuffed full drinks cabinet glitter as the buxom bar-girls clad in spandex shorts and cotton crop tops strained both to stay in their skimpy outfits and keep pace with their waiting customers’ demands, the patrons once served their beverages rushing up the stairwell nearest the entrance to the 1st floor drinking balcony. Flashing lights of red, white, and blue occasionally illuminated the centre of the club, spot-lighting the wildly-dancing, long-haired youths of both sexes packing the crammed dance floor. The building’s walls shook to the music blasting through the night-spot’s strategically placed speakers, music that made him want to rip his ears off, and the establishment’s poor ventilation meant the stale air was filled with a sickly mixture of sweat, drugs and alcohol. "Lucky us."
Xander knew he’d made a mistake when his girl-friend’s eyes narrowed. "I thought it would be nice to have some alone-time, ‘way from sis and the brat," Faith’s full lips twisted in a scowl. "Was I wrong?"
Xander’s shoulders slumped. He better get the right answer or he’d be back sleeping on the couch again. "No dear."
"Good," his mercurial girl-friend beamed at him, before tugging on his hand. "In that case, time to dance."
‘Course, Xander smiled to himself, there were always compensations, he did enjoy being the pole Faith danced on.
* * *
Faith winked lewdly at her man as she ground herself against him, sweat plastering her clothes even tighter to her as she moved in perfect rhythm to the music’s urgently sexy beat.
And then her foot was shooting out behind to catch the man her instincts had just warned her was sneaking up full in the face, lifting him from his feet and dropping him a dozen feet away. Faith spun around, back to back with Xander, the crowd scattering to leave them surrounded by a quartet of knife-wielding thugs, the fifth just flopping about in the wake of her attack. Faith’s grin widened as she charged into battle. Now this was fun!
She fought to the still-playing music, sliding under the left’s one’s left to right slash to deliver a kick aimed at his knee but that caught him on his upper thigh while shooting out a right hand to grab the other’s wrist as he slashed down at the back of her neck, swing her foot around and kick him in the gut. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the other knife stabbing at her and, still gripping her other attacker’s wrist, she leaned back at the waist, allowing the dagger to stab the air where her chest had been before judo throwing her other attacker over her and into the knifeman.
Faith charged over to where the third man was clambering to his feet, his face a gory mess, and made his night a whole lot worse by leaping into the air above him and bringing her left foot down in a brutal ax-kick on the back of his neck. The man’s eyes went glassy with pain as he slumped to the ground, head bouncing off the wood-pannelled floor.
And then she was charging the other two knifemen. The duo charged her, Faith took a split-second to decide which of the two was slightly ahead of the other before launching into the air and into a flawless spin-kick that caught the left thug unawares, and sent him cart-wheeling into the air. Faith grinned as she landed beside the last of the trio, savouring his shocked eyes. "Who did you wanna-bes think you were takin’ on, Joanie and Chachi?" Before the man had chance to speak or react, she drove her fingers into his throat, doubling the man up and leaving him easy prey to a leaping kick to the jaw that flipped him onto his back.
Spinning around, Faith grinned as she saw Xander standing over the other two knifemen and sauntered over. "That was like a light workout hon-," Faith’s brow furrowed as she noticed how worried Xander looked. "What’s the sitch, stud?" Faith cast her boy-friend a concerned look, she couldn’t see any wounds, but-.
"I’ve tried to ring Tara," Xander said. "I can’t get through."
"Oh shit!" Faith’s heart dropped. "Let’s hustle, babe."
* * *
Her heart was still thumping as she and Xander charged into the hotel’s
perfectly pristine lobby. Seeing Xander head towards the gleaming golden-doored
elevators, she grabbed his arm and pulled him away. "Screw that!" she snapped
with a shake of the head. "No time, up the stairs."
Xander groaned before gamely nodding. "Okay." The next few minutes were spent frantically racing up the hotel’s deserted stairs, until they crashed out onto their floor. Faith charged to the room and kicked the door open to find an empty room. "Faith!" Faith spun to face her boyfriend stood a door down. "That’s our room woman, this is theirs!"
"Oh right," Faith ran back and kicked the door open.
"Oh my god." Xander’s eyes bulged.
FIC: MC 48 Jan ’02 Vendetta (11/?)
Faith quickly slammed the door shut. "What they were doing in there-," Xander looked like he’d just seen paradise.
Although for a guy, she guessed he probably had, near as anyway. "Well I’m practically a nun these days, but I’m guessin’ that was a number somewhere under seventy. No!" Faith slapped Xander’s hand away from the door handle. "Give them time to dress. Let them dress, back to our room now."
"No, Xander, I’m not gonna let ya drill a hole in the walls separating us." Faith interrupted as she dragged Xander back to their hotel room. "And if your next suggestion is I find myself a gal-pal, we’re done."
"You have no idea what real fun is," Xander mumbled.
"Slayer Hearing, Harris," she warned. "Thin ice if ya ever want to see the perkies again. That’s all I’m sayin’, thin ice."
Their hotel room door crashed open a minute or so later, an indignant Kennedy leading the way and a blushing Tara following. "More clothes than before," Faith greeted. "And hey, who’d have guessed Tara would be on top."
"Have you heard of knocking!" screamed the potential.
"Have you heard of cells?" Xander hurriedly cut in, her boy-friend’s cheeks blazing. "Only we were attacked at the club we were at and when we couldn’t get in touch, we hurried back to see how you were."
"Attacked by who?" Tara asked.
Faith shrugged. "Didn’t get their names, they seemed minor league though and seeing as you weren’t attacked, could be a coincidence, but when you didn’t answer, we rushed over to see how ya were." She grinned. "And saw way more than we figured."
"I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at either of you in the same way again," Tara muttered.
"Give us five and you can come back, me and X’ll be on the job for you to watch, stay as long as you want, bring refreshments if ya like?" Faith blithely offered.
"Nooo!" Tara reddened.
"Ugggh, gross!" Kennedy looked close to vomiting.
"Don’t I get a say in this?" Xander glanced at her before directing his gaze at Kennedy. "And what do you mean, gross?"
Faith shook her head. "Ya try and be helpful."
* * *
"They’re very formidable, very formidable indeed," Travers paced the floor of their rented house, face pale, brow furrowed with worry. "I can’t see anyone mortal in our price range being able to deal with them." The Watcher looked towards him, hope gleaming in his watery eyes. "Perhaps a spell would suffice?"
Windsor shook his head. "Your files seem to indicate that Ms. Maclay is one of this time’s premier mages, I doubt anything we could muster would severely trouble her."
"If we caught her by surprise though?" suggested his companion. "Working together?"
Windsor hid a grimace at the thought of casting a joint-spell with this insect. He’d found magic was one part knowledge, one part innate skill, and one part will\stamina. He’d hate to have to rely on this one’s backbone in any circumstances. "No, no," he shook his head. "I think it would take an entire coven to take her on with any hope of success. What we need is a demon."
"A demon?" Travers’ brow furrows deepened. "Hiring a demon is an expensi-."
"Not hiring," Windsor smirked. "Summonsing." His smirk widened as his companion’s gasp. "Come now, Travers. You clearly researched my activities, you must know I specialised in demon-summonsing despite many of the Watchers’ disapproval." Small-minded bastards.
Travers licked his corpulent lips. "What demon do you propose to summons?"
Windsor smiled. This would be the summonsing of a lifetime, something that would undoubtedly drain him, but at the same time be his crowning achievement. "A Teramalus." His companion paled. But then, one didn’t lightly call on the demon known in the Darklight Dimension as ‘The Shatterer of Hope’.
Sweat beaded on his fellow country-man’s head. "C..can you do this?"
"It will be difficult," he admitted, "but not impossible."
"Then we should start work immediately."
The next day was spent in a flurry of activity, researching, meditating, buying items for the ritual, painting pentagrams on the floor and writing the sigils on the walls of the apartment they’d hired. Finally though it was time. Windsor sat cross-legged in the centre of the pentagram, eyes closed as he began to recite a language rarely heard since the fall of Atlantis.
The moment he finished his recital, a cold, dusty wind swept through the room, drying his throat and making him shiver. The stench of smoking flesh in his nostrils, he opened his eyes to find a gigantic, barrel-chested beast with skin the colour and texture of dried blood standing over him. It was a massive monster, standing on a pair of legs thicker than a normal man’s waist and three pairs of arms that dangled to the ground, each thicker than a young tree trunk, its three-pronged claws looking capable of decapitating someone with a single swipe. A horn curved up out of the monster’s forehead while a pair of unblinking orange eyes flanked its snout-like nose, its mouth filled with fangs capable of ripping a limb off. Windsor licked his lips before speaking. "By the summonsing rite of Dalkar Of Lemuria, I call you to my service."
The Teramalus stared at him, orange eyes unblinking. "There is a blood-price to pay," its voice bubbled with heat as cold as ice. "Pay the price or there will be no service."
"Oh," Windsor slapped his forehead in feigned forgetfulness. "Of course there is." His eyes chilled as he looked towards the now violently shaking Travers. Did this inbred idiot seriously expect him to serve as his unwitting lackey? "Have him." The next two minutes or so were a stomach-chilling, scream-filled massacre, Windsor watching dispassionately as the Tremalus first playfully beat Travers around the room, then tore him apart and devoured him, until only a pile of sucked-clean bones remained on the floor. "So ends the Travers line."
FIC: MC 48 Jan ’02 Vendetta (12/?)
Portland International Airport
"That’s everything sir, hope you have a good stay."
"I’m sure I will," Riley Hale smiled winningly at the pretty check-in clerk, his smile hiding the very private hurt that he’d lived with for four years. Initially after his adventure against Deak and his terrorist gang he’d been feted as a hero for preventing nuclear armageddon, even got to meet the president and had been awarded the Congressional Medal Of Honour. But in ’98 reality had come through crashing through the ceiling when he’d attempted to apply for the space program and had been brusquely told by his XO that he was ‘too high-profile and if he was in the astronaut program some press hound-dog would find out what really happened in Missouri’.
Hale shook his head as he turned from the counter and started through the semi-empty airport, a sure hang-over from last year’s terrorist attacks. From that moment on he’d known his career as a flier was over and had impatiently waited the ten months until his period of enlistment was up before resigning his commission, taking his savings, and spending the next eighteen months travelling the world, and looking for a cause to take the place of his dream of the stars. He hadn’t found it yet, but maybe in Portland….
* * *
"So, Tar, Ken’s technique, marks out of ten?" Faith snorted and danced nimbly out of the way of the potential’s lunge. "Some people have no sense of humour."
"Kay." Faith threw her hands up and pouted at Xander’s sigh. Jesus, it was cruel for Tar and Ken to supply her with choice ammo like this and not let her use it. Mind returning to business, she looked around Portland’s night-time streets.
They were striding through the busy Hawthorne Boulevard, the darkness kept at
bay by the street lights that also illuminated the southeast suburb’s many
restaurants, roadside cafes, bars, and shops. Returning her eyes to her man, she
bumped him with a hip. "What ya thinkin’ boss man?"
"Boss man?" Xander gave her one of his goofy grins that secretly made her go
mushy inside. "If only."
"Hey," she winked. "You’d be lost without me to keep ya on the straight and narrow and ya know it." Faith sobered. "So don’t dodge the question."
"Okay," Xander stepped around an expensively-dressed woman leading four poodles, and man did they look like their owner, before continuing. "Tara and I have been doing research on the number of ‘PCP deaths’ in Oregon. It’s too high, far too high. I was right, the Brotherhood’s made California too hot for the vamps and they’re migrating north. Unless we organise the groups, they’re going to be massacred.
"That ain’t yar fault, X," Faith winced inwardly at the guilt in Xander’s voice.
Xander looked towards her, a neon bar sign just behind her man illuminating
just how drawn he is. "That doesn’t really matter does it?" her boy-friend
turned left into a slightly less illuminated and busy street. "Just fixing it."
"And the plan?" Faith queried.
"I’ve organised a meeting of the main groups tomorrow night to discuss an amalgamation and merging into the Brotherhood," Tara replied.
"How did ya get them to agree to come?" Faith asked. "Tell them there was going to be a repeat of what we saw last night?"
"Hey!" Kennedy snapped as Tara blushed.
"Faith!" Xander reddened.
"Sorry, last one, I promise," Faith sniggered. Last one until she thought of another, any way.
* * *
"The mousey-brown girl is the most dangerous, you’ll want to take her out before turning to the others," Windsor briefed his unnerving companion. "You’ll be able to tell the Slayer from the way she moves." The demon nodded. "I’ve told you all about the Mithras one, and the potential isn’t much of a concern."
The Teramalus nodded, narrowed eyes fixed on the quartet walking into an increasingly dark area of Portland. Doubtless looking for trouble. Trouble, Windsor chuckled to himself; he’d give them that in spades. "I will kill these children for you," it confirmed. "Then my odious service to you will be done and I will leave."
"But of course," Windsor nodded in acquiescence. "That is the deal."
* * *
Xander tried but failed to tune out his companions’ bickering. Damn it, he loved his girl, but if you gave her the slightest opening, she was unmerciful, and if he knew her, she’d get plenty more mileage out of last night’s escapade-.
He stopped, turning slightly as he noticed Tara had gone ominously quiet. Tara was usually silent in the company of strangers or people they didn’t know that well, but these days it took something for her to fall silent when it was just the four of them, especially when Faith was in full tease mode.
"Tara -." Xander gasped as a six-armed beast dropped off the roof behind them, backhanding the witch into the side of a battered-grey dumpster behind her, the witch bouncing off it and to the ground.
"Sis!" All at once the banter left Faith’s voice, leaving behind a hoarse, primeval growl. Before he had chance to even open his mouth, Faith was charging the beast, short sword drawn from within her free-swinging leather jacket.
"Oh hell," Xander muttered as he ran forward, an enraged-looking Kennedy darting to Tara’s side to stand astride the downed witch. Faith somehow wriggled between two of the taloned arms only to catch a third fist square in the nose. Blood spurted from the Slayer’s nose as she stumbled backwards, a stunned look on her face.
Xander’s eyes widened as the demon’s claw swung up and pinched at Faith’s neck, the dazed Slayer only leaning away from the blow at the last second, the claws still managing to slice a lash down the right side of her neck. "Jesus!"
And then he was in the melee, swinging his broadsword down from over his head in a cleaving action. "Damn!" He jumped back when the beast lashed at him, one claw coming at knee level, the other at chest. He’d have to change weapons.
The demon’s mouth opened, its impossibly long and hard tongue shooting out to crash into his forehead, driving him to his knees with the force of its attack, hitting him with a crowbar’s impact. Before he had chance to do anything, the creature’s scaled tongue smashed back into his forehead, knocking him on his ass.
* * *
Faith licked her lips, eyes fixed on the six-armed monster lumbering towards her, leaning left and right as she attempted to evade its hideously effective tongue. Xan and Tar out of the fight, this thing having six arms to her two, things didn’t look good at all.
Faith scowled, no things weren’t gonna end like this, not for her people, she’d fought too hard to get a family to die now, in some unremarkable alley. Muscles writhing, she thrust her sword up, driving the point through the creature’s tongue and yanking the blade back towards her. Blood spurted out of the wound as the tongue split in two, the beast’s howls music to her warrior soul.
Blood streaming unbidden down her neck, Faith charged forward, ducking left then right as the enraged demon threw punch after punch, she dropped to one knee, another punch sailing overhead. A fiery pain erupted across her chest before she could leap up. A glance down confirmed the demon had clawed across her chest, crimson soaking her once-grey gym vest. Forcing the pain down deep, she exploded up, sword flashing down.
Faith grinned as her blade sliced through one of the demon’s claws, taking it off at the wrist. She kicked out, aiming to plant one in the thing’s mammoth chest. And then gasped when it swatted her out of the air, sending her crashing head-first into the wall behind before sliding to the ground in a dazed pile.
Looks like they lost after all.
FIC: MC 48 Jan ’02 Vendetta (13/14)
"I can navigate my way across the world going at several hundred miles an hour, so how come I can’t read a Portland street map?" Hale mused as he peered by torchlight at the map spread out on his passenger seat. "Whoa!" His head snapped up and foot slammed on the brake as he stared through the passenger window to see a lithe beauty being beaten by a multi-armed giant of a monster, various bodies crumpled up against the sides of the alley.
"It has to be a movie," he muttered as he looked up, craning his neck in a futile attempt to see just where the cameras were.
"Ah," he shook his head. It was impossible, but it was happening in front of him. He put the car into reverse. "To hell with it."
* * *
The Teramalus kicked the human, smiling slightly as her body crashed back into the wall, a rib cracking on the impact. The brunette yelped when he reached down, took a hold of her chestnut locks and yanked her to her feet, easily grabbing her weakly swinging arms in his remaining claws. "You have caused me great pain," the Slayer’s eyes still burnt with spirit, he’d have to pluck them out before he killed her, "but now its my turn." His pronouncement finished, he swung the helpless warrior overhead before releasing and flinging her into the far wall.
As he turned towards the Slayer, she somehow twisted in mid-air, managing to kick-off the wall and fly back at him. He sidestepped the defiant girl’s attempted dropkick, catching her across the torso with a triple-armed clothesline that folded her up and dumped her on the ground, her breath coming in desperate wheezes. He smirked as he stood over the dazed girl and readied his aching tongue, he’d send it through her throat, leaving her to choke in her own blood. After what she’d done to him there was a symmetry to that.
* * *
Kennedy’s horrified eyes were fixed on the demon currently pulverising Faith, her hands shaking Tara. "Tara," she whispered urgently, "Faith needs your help-."
Her voice trailed off when the alley was suddenly filled with light and the roar of a car engine. The monster began to turn towards the illumination and then a car roared into the far end of the alley, crashing into the monster with enough force to take the demon from its feet and bend the SUV’s grille in two, steam coming out of its protesting radiator.
Kennedy gasped as the car screeched to a halt, its driver a man in his early thirties climbing out to stare wild-eyed at the carnage. "What is going on here?"
"Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!" The man reared back when the demon leapt up and threw its head back in a roar.
A head that a blood-streaked and dazed-looking Xander blew off with three blasts from his shotgun before sliding back down the wall to sit slumped against the bricks, an egg-sized bruise above his left eye. "Kennedy," the injured man rasped, "see that Faith’s okay."
* * *
Windsor stared incredulously at the devastated scene just before him. A few seconds ago and the Slayer and her companions’ demise had appeared inevitable, and then this stranger had appeared, combining with a recovering Harris to slay the previously seemingly invincible monster.
Windsor chuckled suddenly. Not that it mattered any way, he’d been fulfilling Travers’ grudge not his own. True, the Slayer was an abomination, a creature that contradicted nature’s true plan by making a woman stronger than men, but he had nothing personal against the girl, not when there were so many wicked harlots that needed to be guided into god’s hands.
He further comforted himself with the thought that the Slayer and her companions would have no idea who’d been behind the demon’s summonsing anyway, the summonsed demon and its only witness were both dead. Yes, he decided as he edged backwards, it would be wise to leave the state before starting his work again.
He smiled wryly before melting into the shadows. Not just Slayers had callings.
He gasped as a pair of strong hands grabbed his shoulders. Heart hammering he twisted his head in time to see a pair of golden eyes gleaming down at him. His mouth opened in a scream that turned into a croak as a set of impossibly sharp teeth sunk into his throat, the whole world ebbing away to darkness.
* * *
"What is going on here?" Riley demanded, his eyes were constantly moving from the thing that lay in front of the car, to the boy who had pulled a shotgun out of nowhere, to the dark-haired beauty being helped to her feet. "What is that?"
"Tara!" In an instant the girl aiding the brunette to her feet dropped her charge to rush over to the awakening girl sprawled by the foot of the dumpster.
"Jesus!" growled the apparent east coast native left slumped on a steel trash can, somehow still gorgeous despite looking like she’d gone ten rounds with Tyson. "Just drop me why don’t ya!"
"I think she just did," the young man wryly pointed out before limping over to him and sticking his hand out. "Thanks for the help."
After a second Riley took the younger man’s hand. "You can show me how grateful you are by explaining what’s going on?"
The youth’s eyes flickered hard for a second before glancing towards the dumpster. "Tara?"
The newly awakened girl, a pretty, new-age looking blonde, nodded weakly, hand pressed to the side of her head. "He’s okay, Xander."
"Okay," the youth limped past him and over to the curvy beauty, "I thought
you were meant to be the Slayer, Faith."
"Fuck off, Harris," the east cost bombshell smirked at her companion as he gently helped her up, "the bastard had six arms and the sort of tongue not even this girl wants near her."
"Excuses, excuses, excuses," the youth variously identified as ‘Xander’ and ‘Harris’ looked towards him. "If you want an explanation, I don’t suppose you’d give us a lift?"
Hale looked at the downed monster before nodding and licking his lips, curiosity perhaps over-whelming his common sense. "Sure," he agreed.
* * *
Hale’s head swum as he listened to the end of Xander’s explanation, cocooned as they were in a PVC-upholstered booth in the first café they’d passed, his companions’ condition getting more than an occasional look from the café’s customers and staff. Demons, Slayers, vampires, and apocalypses, it all made for an incredible, reality-stretching story.
Except he’d seen a demon with his own eyes. The dent in his car a hell of reminder, as if he needed it.
"Tara?" Xander looked towards the witch. "Have you checked our friend out?"
The witch passed her laptop over. "And he reads alright."
Hale had barely begun to turn towards the witch, wondering what exactly her
words meant when Xander spoke. "Wow, a Desert Storm veteran, a Captain in the
air force, and a Congressional Medal owner?" The young man licked his lips. "I
wonder, would you be interested in running my Pacific Northwest team?"
Hale stared at the younger man, shocked by the offer. His first instinct was to reject, he’d just left one army and didn’t fancy joining another. Except, this was different, this wasn’t running countless drill after drill, this was actual action, actually helping people, the purpose he’d been seeking for so long. Finally he nodded. "I’ll do it."
"Great," the youth beamed before sobering, "this is what we’ll give you-."
* * *
"Tara!" Her girl-friend pounded on the bathroom door. "The others will be leaving for the meeting in a minute!"
"I’ll be there in a minute," Tara said, "I’m just finishing my make-up. I’ll meet you downstairs."
Tara continued to check her mascara.
"Tara, you have been summonsed."
FIC: MC 48 Jan ’02 Vendetta (14/14)
"Summonsed?" Tara stared at her mentor, the severe-faced man smiling with the
usual kindness he seemed to direct only at her. "If there’s troub-."
"Peace, Tara." Her voice trailed off when her mentor’s smile broadened and he
raised a calming hand. "There’s no trouble. I just need to take you somewhere."
"Take me somewhere?" Tara shook her head. "I c…can’t. We’re just about to check out."
"Don’t worry," Doctor Strange’s eyes were positively sparkling. "The place
I’m intending to take you is outside of the normal time-stream and dimension."
Tara felt her eyes widen. "We’ll only be gone a second."
"W…what is this place?" Tara stuttered.
"The Pax," Strange replied. "A bar that is only accessible to those with
magical powers. A place where magical powers are nullified and where strict laws
of neutrality and non-violence are enforced."
"Like Caritas?" queried a by now wide-eyed Tara.
"A similar but far more powerful version," the sorcerer supreme replied. "The Pax is a bar given life by the sacrifice of an incredibly powerful being at the dawn of time. The defender of neutrality gave his life so that creatures from all dimensions would have a place to meet and relax without worrying about their safety. Only beings either of mystical origin or possessing great magical power previously invited there by a guest can visit it. You can stay for as long as you want, and then when you wish to return, you’re returned to the exact place you left from and at the exact same time. Within its walls no supernatural violence can occur, and the bouncers are a most formidable lot." The former physician stared down at her, hand out-stretched. "The question is do you want to?"
Tara stared up at the magician, her heart firmly wedged in her throat. On the one hand she was terrified by this offer, unsure if she wanted to go somewhere without her friends. On the other…..
She never got to have any adventures, however minor, on her own.
Finally she nodded. "I..I’ll do it," she confirmed as she took the master sorcerer’s hand and looked around. "W….where’s the door?"
Strange nodded towards the bathroom mirror. "Wherever there’s a mirror, there is a doorway to The Pax. One only has to know the way. Shall we?" Now too frightened to talk, Tara nodded. "Excellent." Tara gasped as the magician pulled her towards the mirror, its glass surface rippling like a lake you’d just dropped a stone into.
And then they were stepping through it, the fierce wind pushing their hair back as it screeched in their ears, the impossibly bright light blinding her as they began to fall.
* * *
Tara blinked, surprised when her eyes instantly cleared. "Oh wow," she whispered as she looked around. The arched-doorway she’d just stepped through was flanked by a trio of eight foot tall, hulking, rock-skinned demons with cool orange eyes and massive horns curving out of the side of their heads. "I s…see what you mean about the security," she whispered.
"Quite," Strange gently guided her into the bar.
Another gasp escaped her lips as she looked around. Works of fine art adorned the inn’s walls, some painted by human hands, other by other-worldly creatures. The inn itself was an amalgamation of several times, cultures, and dimensions pulled together to somehow create a bewilderingly comfortable ambience.
"What’ll it be?" Tara turned at the voice, blank eyes meeting the twenty-tentacled demon who appeared to be nothing more than a human face attached to two legs stood behind the bar. "I’m Salve Xeina, bartender of this establishment." The demon looked at her even as several of his tentacles continued to serve waiting customers of many different species. "Oh a newbie, Tara Maclay," the demon grinned at her gasp. "The Pax tells me all about a newcomer, pleasure to meet you. You’re as pretty as the stories say. Drinks from a hundred dimensions," the demon blithely continued, "what’s your poison?"
"H…have you worked here long?" Tara gaped as she watched the demon continue to serve drinks to half a dozen other customers.
Salve stared at her for a second before replying. "Long? Five thousand years." The multi-limbed demon chuckled at her gasp. "My people normally live a few hundred years, but The Pax powers me now, for as long as this body will hold. Now, your order Miss?"
Tara smiled as a bitter-sweet reminiscence hit her. Before her mom had died\been murdered, she was never quite sure which was correct but had her suspicions, her mother had occasionally, not often as it was difficult to escape her father’s grasping clutches, taken her into town. They didn’t have much cash so they invariably ended up in the local ice cream parlour, spending a couple of precious hours over a ice-cream sundae. "A hot fudge sundae, please."
Salve smiled at her. "Coming right up."
Tara shook her head in disbelief when the demon didn’t even have to turn away to present her with a delicious-looking, chocolate sauce and nut topped strawberry ice-cream sundae. "But that’s how," she took a greedy bite to confirm her suspicions, "they made them back home!"
"I told you," Salve chuckled. "Things work differently in the Pax." Salve nodded. "Be seeing you, Tara, customers to serve."
"But I haven’t-."
"Paid?" Salve shook his head as he turned away. "The Pax isn’t run for profit, my dear."
Tara couldn’t stop grinning as she hungrily dived into the ice cream, hungrily eating it up.
"Well hello dear," Tara looked up at the purr of a good old boy, "I’m sure I’ll have remembered seeing a sweetie like you here before."
The speaker was ruggedly handsome and tanned man in his early forties with genial eyes. A chill ran through Tara despite the stranger’s amiable manner. "Back off, Buck," suddenly Strange was beside her, an imperious look in his eyes as he glared at the interloper.
The stranger seemed unaffected by Strange’s disdain. "My dear Stephen, I only wish to make the acquaintance of this young beauty," the man smiled at her. "You can’t be so selfish as to keep her to yourself can you?"
"What sort of friend would I be to introduce her to you?" The Sorcerer Supreme retorted.
"So unfriendly," the man sighed, bowed half at the waist, and strode away.
"Who was that?" Tara whispered.
"Lucas Buck," Strange glared after the departing man. "Sheriff of a town
called Trinity, I suspect he is one of Satan’s avatars on earth. At the very
least, he is a powerful black arts mage."
"And they allow him in here?" Tara gasped, eyes widening in horror.
"I told you," Strange glanced towards her, "The Pax makes no distinctions."
"Yeah," Tara nodded, sinking back in her bar stool as she glanced around the tables.
There were many a creature she only recognised from books – centaurs, thick-limbed dwarves, and pointy-eared elves, and a few she didn’t recognise at all. "Who’s that?" Tara looked towards a muscular, white-haired man with sharp features, dressed entirely in red.
"Ah," Strange smiled. "Dante Sparda, demon-hunter and son of a demon knight. Formidable warrior."
Tara glanced around the room. Most of its inhabitants were human, but doubtless were incredibly powerful magic-users, but two in particular stood out. "W…what’s that?" she whispered.
Strange’s nose wrinkled as he looked in the direction she was looking and towards a ‘man’ with a hideously burnt face, wearing a brown fedora and a green and red striped sweater, and most disturbingly a pair of steel claw gloves. "Freddy Krueger," Strange’s voice was filled with disgust, "an animal in human form who hunts children in their dreams. Not really his fault given his past, but still. Others," Strange looked towards her, "have risen above their pasts to make a difference for good, so I don’t especially feel much pity for him."
"And that?" Tara looked towards the most outrageous looking of all the bar’s inhabitants, a monstrous-looking beast apparently made up of sewage and plant-life with two glazed eyes staring out of the head of its man-shaped frame.
"Don’t be too quick to judge, judge not by appearances is the lesson there," Strange reprimanded. "Ted Sallis was an engineer who accidentally got infected with the very serum he created, and as a result became Man-Thing. Since then, he’s been a warrior for the forces of good, and a formidable enemy of evil." Strange smiled at her. "Have you finished your sundae?" Tara nodded. "Then I think it is perhaps time we returned home. Remember you can come back any time you wish, all you need is a mirror."
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