See Chapter Nine for Disclaimer Well; it's happened. Kendra is dead, and Faith is now the second active Slayer.
While it is doubly unfortunate that this has happened now -Not only is the girl Faith not at all what I would wish for in our premier weapon against the forces of darkness, but Ms. Northam has had only weeks to ready the girl for her power's awakening-at least both of these beings are now under our control. Kendra's so-called 'Watcher' often chose most unwisely when deciding which battles she would fight, and where. Only the Council has the experience and depth of knowledge to properly use the Slayer; 'Slayers', now, of course.
I believe our best course will be to keep the two, Buffy and Faith, well separated. The Summers girl can maintain her watch on the American Hellmouth, while Ms. Northam's young charge will be more of a roving troubleshooter. While the area of Sunnydale is host to an incredible concentration of supernatural activity, there are many other isolated 'hot spots' which require attention. Hopefully, Faith will gain some experience and be ready to step in when Buffy Summers falls.
I must admit; it is rather a comfort, having an 'understudy' Slayer on hand.
No doubt this arrangement will, in the long run, prove much more productive than the single Slayer alone.
Lord William Robert Hayden
Earl of Stapleford
First Seat of the Council
May 15, 1998
Taryuu stood in the doorway, watching as the mages continued to labor over the man's battered body. Itai lay on the mat, his nearly naked body painted with various alchemical mixtures and pastes, twitching uncontrollably as the magicks forced him to heal. His wounds already seemed a bit less extensive than they had mere hours earlier, but he was still far from functional. Taryuu turned away, walking down the dimly lit hall.
This was the Storm's headquarters, the location from which their covert campaign to conquer this city's underworld was being fought. An office building dating from the early seventies, it was situated in one of the metropolis's worst areas. This had influenced its designers greatly, and security had dictated its every detail. The exterior was plain gray concrete, severe and grim. The many windows were all narrow vertical slits, too narrow for a human to pass, thus removing the risk of burglary. The entrances were few, and the doors were heavy steel with only small panels of thick, wire-laced glass. It was a three-story monument to corporate paranoia.
Of course, it hadn't been thieves or vandals who had brought the company to bankruptcy, but instead the crippling recession that had struck soon after they had opened for business. Since then, the building had changed hands many times. Now it served as the fortress-home to a group of exiled criminals.
Taryuu grimaced at that thought. This organization that his master was building, was, of necessity, comprised predominately of Americans. The core group that had come from Japan numbered less than forty, hardly enough to dominate even a small town, much less a city. Still, they had served as a solid core around which to build, and build they had. Now their numbers totaled over a thousand, though less than a quarter of that number were what Taryuu would consider reliable. Time would see that change. Victories won and wealth gained would prove to the doubters that lord Akamori was indeed worthy of their loyalty.
Then again, fear was always useful as a motivator too. In some ways that was his most important function within the organization; the judicious application of terror. The hallway opened up ahead of him, and he emerged into an echoing, cavernous space. Standing on the mezzanine level, he looked down into what had once been the buildings lobby. The main entrance was directly across from him and one level down, and that floor also had wide hallways on both the left and right, leading off to other areas. The wide balcony on which he stood stretched completely around the huge room, giving access to several dozen small meeting rooms and suites, as well as two enclosed stairwells. On the open floor below, a group of new recruits were sitting around one of the core members. He was lecturing them on the virtues of obedience and loyalty to the clan; lord Akamori was adamant on that point; he would not lead a gang of thugs, these were to be soldiers in his cause. It was a noble ambition, to recreate the Yakuza Clan structure in a foreign land, but Taryuu was unsure of how successful they could be in teaching these westerners something so fundamentally Japanese.
They did have something to assist them in their goal. Walking around the perimeter of the group, seemingly only a casual listener, a robed man walked. One of the handful of mages who owed their allegiance to the Storm, he was scanning the thoughts of the recruits, listening to their inner voices. Already, several spies had been caught in this manner, including an undercover police officer. The man had been questioned quite thoroughly, and when it was clear that the authorities had little in the way of evidence against the clan, he had been quietly disposed of. Judicious bribes to certain members of the police force had so far prevented any further trouble, and with a little more time and effort, the Thousand Year Storm would control several critical judges as well.
All in all, things were proceeding quite well.
Turning, he saw Akamori approaching along the balcony, accompanied as always by a pair of his bodyguards.
"Lord. I was just on my way to see you."
The young man nodded, his eyes intent.
"I am told that you have received news from your informants."
That made Taryuu smile slightly. Of course, the master would learn of such things only slightly less quickly than did he. In this case, with the news being good, that was not a problem.
"I have, lord. A large group of the troublemakers are gathering, perhaps to discuss these latest events. We know where they will be, in roughly an hour."
Akamori's expression was dark.
"Then they are to be dealt with. In such a way that others will not seek to emulate their foolishness." He said, his voice stern. "I wish them to serve as examples, do you understand? A clear message to the rest that I will not tolerate this sort of futile resistance to our presence!"
Taryuu bowed again.
"I understand. There is the matter of who to send." He looked the younger man in the eye. It was important not to seem as if he were making excuses. "Itai would be the first choice, but even with magical assistance he will not be fully recovered until tomorrow morning, at the earliest."
"I see." The young lord lowered his head in thought for a moment, and then looked up. "Send Dai. She grows restless with inactivity, and should serve very well to teach the lesson I desire these people to learn."
The older man nodded in agreement. One of the followers who had fled Japan with them, Dai possessed a very specific sort of magic. It made her, if anything, even more physically dangerous than Itai, though she perhaps lacked his ability to adapt to novel situations. That thought brought him to the second bit of information his street contacts had brought him.
"There is also word of the girl." Akamori was suddenly focused upon him once again. "She was seen earlier today, walking in full sunlight."
That raised the younger man's eyebrows.
"Not a vampire, then, as I had thought. What was she doing?"
Taryuu's lips curled in disdain.
"She was stealing. Breaking into parked cars and removing stereos. Rather more petty than I had expected, from a such a powerful warrior." He shrugged away his inability to explain that behavior. "She was in the company of the same young man Itai told us of when he was brought back this morning. It may be that she has an attraction to him, though his loyalty to his current female companion is widely known."
His master looked puzzled as well.
"Friendship perhaps. Strange, in one of her ilk." He walked a few steps away, looking down at the scene below. "It sounds as if she is making herself at home here." He looked over his shoulder, and his displeasure was plain upon his face. "I do not wish her to feel at home in my city."
Taryuu shared that wish. It was, after all, his men who had thus far suffered at her hand. He considered for a moment before replying.
"I suppose we could find a suitable way to make her aware of our feelings in the matter." He felt compelled to add a warning. "It is possible that such a thing might well lead to further confrontation."
To his surprise, the head of the clan did not seem displeased with the prospect.
"Hm. Intriguing notion." His eyes seemed to hold the slightest hint of… eagerness. Disturbing, in one's superior. "I am told that she is attractive, this girl."
The older man nodded guardedly.
"So it is said. Attractive, as many dangerous things are. But no less a threat because of that." Perhaps an even greater threat, because of that. The clan lord's youth sometimes showed itself in his appreciation of beautiful women, and in rare instances of recklessness. If those two weaknesses were to combine in the person of this 'Faith', then who knew what might result?
"Proceed with this, Taryuu. Launch an attack on her, or destroy something she seems comfortable with. In either case, use fire. If sunlight holds no terror for her, then perhaps that does. The legends say that fire serves to end most of the supernatural creatures." Taryuu relaxed slightly. Perhaps he had been worried for no reason. Akamori turned and started away, only to pause after a moment. "Use as many of the new recruits as you feel necessary for the task. If she dies, it is well enough. If not…." He smiled slightly. "Then so much the better. I suspect she will not be vanquished by common soldiers." The older man felt a chill pass through him. Surely the young lord was not considering-- "I will speak with you and Nagasu later concerning my wishes in the matter. With the troublemakers out of the way, there should be no difficulty in dealing with this little mystery. I believe I would like to meet with the girl." Noticing the look of dismay that Taryuu could not quite conceal, he went on to add. "Under the appropriate conditions, of course."
That was not quite as reassuring as the lord had meant it to be, but a retainer's place was to obey. He bowed even as Akamori strode away.
"Of course, lord."
This had the feel of impending disaster. His master prided himself upon his martial skills, and rightly so. Being forced to flee Japan had been a severe blow to his pride, and young men often allowed their pride to lead them to foolishness. It seemed possible that he wished to either bed this Faith, or to best her in combat; possibly both. Either course might well prove fatal. True, he was the clan lord, and his will was not to be disputed, but for him to risk himself, and the clan itself, for such a whimsical reason…. No. It must be prevented. If he had not been ordered to send Dai to deal with the agitators, then she would have been the one to send. Now, though, he would simply have to do his best to see that the strike against the girl was successful. He would send a large group of recruits, as he had been instructed. But he would also send a select handful of his best soldiers, to make sure of her.
The legends might teach that fire destroyed demons, but from his own personal experience he knew that a far more certain means involved a sufficient number of competently wielded firearms.
This night Faith would become a spirit warrior in truth; for she would be joining them.
* * * * *
Faith threw the door to the shop open with such force that it was nearly torn from its hinges. She stalked inside, and Alex warily followed after her. The girl had been in a dark mood ever since their conversation during lunch, but things had taken a turn for the worse when they had tried to get rid of their loot.
Inside Sylvia's shop, Faith had already disappeared down the nearest of the aisles leading to the back. Rebecca, the old woman's granddaughter, was staring after her in concern. She looked at Alex and started to speak, but he brushed past her, mumbling an apology. Moving as quickly as he could, he wove his way through the stacks of merchandise. Despite the fact that the girl was carrying both of the bags they had filled with stolen electronics, he still didn't catch her before she reached the area where Sylvia was usually to be found. He got there just in time to see Faith throw one of the bags to the floor, then suddenly hurl the other the full width of the room. The heavy bag traveled sixty feet in a flat arc, smashing into the far wall with tremendous force, and a truly incredible amount of noise. The worn fabric bag ruptured, spraying compact discs and fragments of car stereos in every direction.
Alex stood motionless; watching as the Slayer clenched her fists and breathed deeply, staring at the table in front of her without seeming to actually see it. A rustle of fabric made him turn. Rebecca stood beside him, staring with dismay at the scene.
"What are you doing?!"
The young woman was aghast, looking first at the staved-in spot high on the wall, and then at the tall Slayer who looked ready to erupt into further violence at any moment.
Taking the distraught Rebecca by the elbow, Alex pulled her back a few discrete steps.
"It's okay, just let it go for now, please." He said, trying to soothe her. "It's just been a tough day, and she needs a while to calm down. Where's Sylvia?"
The girl looked at him with wide, worried eyes.
"She's next door, talking to Teresa." The young woman wrung her hands anxiously, still disturbed by the outburst of violence inside a place that had likely never known even so much as a voice raised in anger. "Oh, Jason was here about an hour ago, too, looking for you. He seemed upset that you both weren't here to meet him."
While he was occupied with the shop owner's granddaughter, Faith had shoved one of the chairs back and plopped down into it. Propping her feet up on the table and crossing her arms across her chest, she sat motionless; radiating sullen anger. Alex watched her for a few seconds, but the dark-haired girl showed no sign of moving anytime soon. With another reassuring glance at Rebecca, he headed for the door that led into the kitchen area, and the back door that lay just beyond.
"Is Kelly doing okay?"
He was looking back at the shop girl as he said it, and so didn't see his girlfriend emerging from the kitchen until he bumped into her. Taking her by the shoulders to steady her, he smiled, relieved to see her. That relief quickly faded as he got a good look at her.
Despite the coolness, her face was sheened with perspiration. She was sniffling constantly, and was huddled inside a heavy wool sweater. Alex had seen this before, and felt a sinking sensation within him as he recognized the first signs of serious withdrawal. Taking her in his arms, he hugged her to him.
"Hey. How are you doing?"
She snuggled closer to him, and he felt her sigh.
"Better, now that you're back." Pulling back slightly, she looked up at him with wide, hopeful eyes. "Did everything go okay? Did you get the money?"
There was a note of desperation in her voice, and he could see it in her face as well. It hurt him to see that, more then if someone were twisting a knife in his gut. Added to that was the guilt that flared when he looked down into her face. Just a couple of hours ago he'd been on the verge of betraying the trust she had in him. He'd held Faith in his arms, felt the incredible vitality of her body as it pressed up against him, tasted the spicy flavor of her luscious mouth…. Even now the remembered taste of her was enough to speed his pulse, despite Kelly being right there, huddled against him. Snarling at himself in disgust, he threw a glance back at where Faith was sitting at the table. She was still staring darkly into space, and he pulled Kelly with him into the kitchen. It was tiny, with barely enough room to move between the ancient gas-powered cook stove and the equally ancient refrigerator. A small table with two chairs sat in a nook beside the rear door. He led her to one of those chairs and sat her down.
"I'm sorry." He took a deep breath. "No, we didn't get it."
She stared at him as if he were speaking in a foreign language.
"But… why?" Suddenly her eyes flew to the doorway leading into the shop. "Was it Faith's fault? Did her stupid plan not work for getting things to sell? What did she-"
He knelt on the floor before her and reached out to take hold of her arms.
"No. No, Kelly. It wasn't her fault. She did great; she's amazing." Again, against his will, an image of Faith flashed into his mind; smiling wickedly at him, her thick mane of curls dancing in the breeze, her hands moving over his body with a firm, possessive touch. He felt his face grow hot with embarrassment. My god, what is wrong with me? First I come close to letting her do me in front of a fast-food place, and now I'm daydreaming about her with Kelly right here!
The sickly girl was shaking her head in agitation and confusion.
"Well, if you were able to get the stuff, then where's the money?"
He came back to his senses, focusing on the difficulty at hand. It was a big one, too.
"The problem is, we couldn't sell it." He couldn't look at her, couldn't bear to see the despair stealing over her drawn face. "Both of the fences I know told us the same thing; we've been shut out, put off-limits. Nobody can buy or sell anything to us, or they'll answer to the Storm."
"But… there has to be somebody who doesn't care about that! They don't control everyone!"
He shrugged helplessly.
"No, not everyone. But I don't know anyone else, and it'll take time to find someone new, then get them to trust me enough to buy stolen property." It would take too long. Without money they wouldn't be able to skip town, or even hide for very long. Not with Kelly's addiction requiring a steady flow of cash to support it. If only she had never gotten hooked on the drug. If only the withdrawal wasn't so agonizingly painful. He'd tried to help her quit once, but he hadn't been able to endure her suffering.
Tears were streaming down her cheeks as she sat there staring at him. She realized the hopelessness of their situation now; she saw the trap they were in. The walls were closing in on them, and the girl who was their only real hope was growing more volatile by the hour.
"What do we do now?" Kelly whispered. She looked so fragile sitting there; so afraid that it broke his heart.
"I don't know." He honestly didn't. Since they had met, he had tried to take care of her, protect her. Now, he was as lost as she was. "I'm going to go talk to Sylvia, see if maybe we can stay here for awhile."
She nodded at that.
"She'll let us stay; she likes us." A flicker passed over her face, and she looked suddenly hopeful. "Do you think she would lend us some money too?"
He looked at her sadly. It wasn't her fault, it was the heroin talking, driving her to do anything for the next fix. He didn't want to ask the old woman for money, it made him cringe inside to even consider it. But what other choice did he have? If he didn't come up with it somehow, then he would be forced to ask Faith for yet more of her stolen supply of the drug to hold Kelly over. He hated even the thought of having to do that. In less than a single day the girl had managed to gain far too much of a hold over him; he didn't want to give away anything else to her. Besides, in her current mood asking her for anything at all might be as dangerous as trying to buy some of the drug out on the street.
"We'll see." He stood up, but stopped her when she started to rise from her chair. "You stay here, I'll go ask Sylvia about letting us stay." Glancing at the doorway, he lowered his voice. "Whatever you do, stay in here. Faith is not very happy right now. I'd rather you didn't get around her without me being there."
She nodded, wrapping her arms around herself as she was wracked with a sudden bout of shivering. Leaving her there, he pushed the screen door open and stepped outside.
* * * * *