See Chapter Nine for Disclaimer
Author's Note: With this chapter the violence ramps up a bit, so here's a warning... but I have to think that if you've made it this far in, you're a pretty hardcore Faith person. I think you can handle it. I believe in you!!! Rupert Giles has reported an odd occurrence, which took place in Sunnydale during these last few days. Gwendolyn Post, a former member of our organization, has been killed while attempting to gain control of a powerful magical artifact.
Apparently, Ms. Post relied on subterfuge to gain not only Gile's trust, but his active cooperation in locating the item. Along the way, she seems to have interacted at great length with Faith, who of course failed to see through the woman's ruse. Although this again illustrates the Beta Slayer's failings (and does not show either Giles or Miss Summers in a flattering light, either), the woman is safely dead, and there is likely no harm done.
In an interesting side note; the report states that Faith and Buffy came to blows over some aspect of the affair. Typical, I suppose, of the American mindset shared by both girls. Still, perhaps a bit of rivalry, even competition might result. Anything that drives Faith to improve herself, to rise above her current level of mediocrity, can only benefit us all in the end.
--Lord William Robert Hayden
Earl of Stapleford
First Seat of the Council
November 22, 1998
When Faith reached the scene of the fire, it was just as she'd thought it would be. The apartment building where Alex and his girlfriend lived, where she herself had stayed last night, was now ablaze. Scores of people were there, some trying to do something to help, most just watching from a safe distance.
She slowed to a jog, scanning the area. The three-story structure was still mostly intact; only the lowest floor looked to be really burning so far. Flames were visible through several of the ground-level windows, and the main entrance was a blazing inferno. Because the steps to the upper floors were just inside the entrance, the stairway was serving as a chimney, funneling the blaze upwards, and preventing anyone from using that route to escape. Most of those trapped above seemed to be trying to lower themselves over the iron railings of the balcony that stretched the width of the building, to make their way safely to the ground. A few of the onlookers were trying to assist them as they climbed down, and others were leading the coughing, bedraggled survivors off to the side.
None of that held Faith's attention for more than an instant. It was the group of men standing there and watching things unfold that drew her eye. There was nothing obvious to indicate that they were any different from the rest of the onlookers. Maybe they were standing a little closer to the burning building than the rest; maybe the expressions on their faces were too smug, too full of suppressed glee. Whatever it was that her subconscious saw, she didn't waste time questioning it.
These were the ones she had come for, and it was time to forget about everything but dealing some pain. She wouldn't be holding anything back this time.
* * * * *
Alex stood on the brakes, bringing the car to a screeching halt at the curb. The parking lot in front of the building was filled with hastily parked cars sitting every which way, and at least fifty or sixty people milling around. Throwing his door open, he scrambled out and headed for the burning structure at a dead run. There were people trapped inside, and he knew many of them, at least in passing. He had to see if he could help them escape.
Somewhere behind him Kelly and Scott were exiting the car and coming after him, but that was forgotten when he caught sight of Faith. She was in the open space between the onlookers and the building itself, and she was fighting with what looked to be a ten or twelve men. Despite the urgent need to get to where several ragged volunteers were trying to rig a ladder up to the second floor balcony, he was frozen in place for several long seconds, staring at the spectacle of a Slayer in full cry.
Two of the men were down already, and as he watched Faith launched herself at a third. The man had a long knife in each hand, and he flourished them like he knew his business. It made absolutely no difference. The tall, dark-haired girl made a single stutter-step, then lunged in, and an instant later she held one of his wrists in each hand. Yanking his arms out wide and maintaining her grip them, she somersaulted backwards, both of her feet impacting his face with incredible force along the way. Finishing the movement she landed upright, then snapped both of his forearms without visible effort, throwing him off to the side like he was a rag doll.
Alex winced. If the man hadn't already been rendered semi-conscious from the kick, he would most certainly be screaming in agony.
The remaining men had taken the momentary pause in Faith's attack to fall back, moving even closer to the building. One of them drew a handgun from under his jacket and took aim at the girl. Even as he pulled the weapon, and almost to fast to see, she was low to the ground and surging forward with impossible speed. He got off one wild shot, and then she was on him. One hand captured his gun-hand, forcing it higher even as she came upright once again. Her free hand drove upwards, striking his extended elbow. The snapping sound was lost in the crackle and roar of the fire, but the man's screams were loud and clear. Clutching at his flopping arm, he fell to his knees. Without missing a beat, Faith spun, hurling the gun. Another of her opponents had pulled a pistol, and he doubtless thought that he was a safe distance away from the leather-clad fury. His expression of surprise was shattered along with his skull as the heavy steel pistol she had thrown struck his head with the force of a sledgehammer.
Her long coat swirling, the Slayer completed the spin her throw had begun, facing the man with the shattered elbow. She clapped her hands hard against his ears, bursting his eardrums, then hopped up and into him, driving a knee into his face with bone-splintering force. He sprawled backwards and lay motionless. Faith turned slowly, one hand rising to rake the hair back and away from her face. The savage joy that illuminated her features was a terrible thing to behold. She bounded forward again, and Alex turned away. Scott and Kelly were beside him, both staring at the carnage unfolding in the light of the fire. The girl looked sickened and repulsed by what she saw, but Scott's eyes had gone wide with wonder.
"C'mon!" Both turned to look at him, and he waved at the burning structure. At least one older woman had fallen while trying to climb from the third story, and three people were struggling to drag her away from the flames without doing her further injury. "We have to help! Let's go!"
The three of them hurried to do what they could, while the Slayer continued her awful work.
* * * * *
They weren't demons; they weren't even vampires… but they were enough to send Faith to her favorite place. Beyond memory, beyond thought; the only things here were instinct, movement, and power.
There was rage, too, of course; the rage was always there.
She'd taken down five of them already, almost before they'd known she was there. Now the others had gotten a good look at her, and she could see it on their faces. 'How the hell did she
do all that?'
For a second she was afraid that they were about to run. Fortunately, their minds just couldn't accept that she was as dangerous as she'd just demonstrated. Obviously she'd been lucky with the first five, no mere girl could have taken down their buddies. A tough-looking biker-type came at her, fists flying. The darkness inside her hummed with pleasure, and she moved forward to meet him.
She easily avoided his first two swings, but there was no real satisfaction in simply evading him. The pleasure of her body's swift, sure movement had already started to fade, overcome by something else. It didn't really matter that she fight well, she just needed to fight. Stepping closer, reaching her own range, she took a powerful blow to the face. It rocked her head back, the sensation a burst of color across the shadows that filled her skull, but the pain vanished far too quickly, leaving nothing but the rage. She would show him how to inflict some real pain.
Her fist smashed his nose flat, spraying blood across his rough features. He roared in fury; it probably wasn't the first time that nose had been broken. Scarred knuckles drove her head back again, and she tasted blood from a split lip.
Better, she thought happily. Standing there, flat-footed and toe-to-toe with the huge man, she fired a series of fast, powerful blows into his midsection, working him like he was a punching bag. There was no art here, no grace. She punished him, each blow striking him with more force than the last. He staggered back, but she grabbed him by the front of his tee shirt and pulled him close again. He clubbed her again with a massive fist, and she could have dodged; could have blocked it, but she wanted so much to feel, instead of think. Anything, so long as she didn't have to go back to what she was the rest of the time….
He hit her again, with all the strength of an arm as big around as her thigh, and the impact spun her halfway around. In that unguarded instant, her instincts took hold. She finished the spin, coming out of the windup with her own much smaller fist impacting with twice the speed of his blow and much, much more strength behind it. Blood and broken teeth sprayed from his mouth as he spun to the ground and lay there in a groaning heap. He was out of it, but it she snarled in disappointment over how swiftly he'd gone down. It wasn't enough to beat someone; they had to know that they'd been beaten. She had wanted to show him, to show them all. It was important to make them aware of just how pathetic they were, next to her.
Looking around at the ring of wary thugs surrounding her, she hoped that the rest of it would be better. This was all she had now. In the beginning it had seemed so much sweeter. Now…. Now it was tainted, like everything else about her. Bitterness and frustration welled up inside her, joining the eternal, empty fury that hummed at her core. Without this she really would be nothing; if she stopped now then she might as well be dead. Doggedly she raised her face and stared at them.
Most of them were hanging back now, finally made cautious by what they'd seen her do to their friends, but three of the remaining men had decided to rush her.
The idiots. She wanted to kiss them.
The first to reach her swung overhand with some kind of telescoping baton, trying to catch her in the head. She reached out and caught it on the downswing, then pivoted her lower body and brought her right foot up and around to drive into his solar plexus, folding him forward. She ducked under the heavy length of chain the next one swung at her, but when she straightened, the last one to arrive landed a solid blow to her face. She blinked once, just to let him know that she'd felt it, and then she reached out and picked him up. Despite his struggles, she easily raised him over her head, then brought him down across her knee.
Cheesy wrestling move or not, when done for real it got the job done. His spine shattered like a rotten stick, and she tossed him away as she straightened. The chain man was circling warily, and the one she'd kicked was mostly recovered too.
She turned slowly, grinning widely at them. Counting the two she was already engaging, there were eight of these bozos still on their feet. The shadows in her head were surging like a storm-tossed sea, and she couldn't tell if the roaring in her ears was from the fire behind her, or from the blood racing through her veins.
She loved this; it was full-on Slayer mode, and she was full of vitality, energized by the exercise of her power; alive and aware in a way that only happened at times like this.
She hated this; she felt sickened; tainted by darkness and blood, the crack of bone and the screams of the maimed echoing endlessly inside of her. It was wrong, wrong to be doing this much damage to them when it would be just as easy to simply take them down and leave them unconscious.
She couldn't help it; it had to be this way. They'd made her do it, just by being here….
"You did want me here, didn't you?!" She screamed it at them, her voice hoarse and cracking. They looked scared, some of them looking over their shoulders towards the parking lot, as if longing for escape. It wouldn't happen; she was going to have her way with each and every one of them. "C'mon, you invited me! You practically begged me to show up. Well here I am!"
Someone came at her from behind, but even through the incredible din of the fire nearby she could pick out the sounds of their approach. She spun, into the oncoming threat, her head snapping around to show her the target, and a backhand fist taking the man in the throat long before he could try to drive the sharp piece of iron rebar he held into her body. He dropped to the ground, struggling to breathe through a crushed larynx, and she turned slowly in place.
"Is this what you wanted?! Did you think that just 'cause I hadn't killed any of you so far that I wouldn't?" Killing them was the only way to stop them; she had to make them stop. This had to end, one way or another….
The two of them lunged at her nearly simultaneously, and she leapt straight up, floating above the swing of the chain as if levitating. Her left leg was tucked tight against her body, waiting the fraction of a second until the man's weapon pulled him a single step closer. Uncoiling with all her strength behind it, her leg flashed out, her foot connecting with his shoulder, shattering bone and hurtling him back with no less force than if he'd been hit by a runaway car. The recoil of that impact shoved her backwards as well, but she maintained an upright position and extended her right leg behind her, ready to land as lightly as a falling leaf.
Until something cracked into her lower leg with numbing force, transforming her graceful touchdown into an awkward sprawl. The guy with the telescoping club had taken a Babe Ruth swing at her extended leg, catching her right across the shin. If the bone there wasn't broken, it was only because Slayers were made of stronger stuff than mere mortals. It also just went to show you that, super-senses notwithstanding, no one noticed everything, every time.
Faith shoved that little insight away, snarling as she gathered her legs under her. She was going to rip him into six different pieces, and then leave each one on a different doorstep, right beside the morning paper. She was going to-
Pounding footsteps warned her, and she whirled even as she was coming to her feet, but it was too late. Another of the men hurled himself at her in a flying tackle. She tried to dodge, but the angle was all wrong; when she pushed off with her foot to try and get out of the way, it slipped on the scorched grass, leaving her to absorb the impact of someone twice her size. She was knocked back to the ground, unhurt but not in good position to do much of anything. She grabbed her attacker and threw him off, just in time to see that damned baton coming down at her face. She caught it with a cross-wrist block, then fired a kick up into his chest. Ribs cracked as he flew up and away, and she heard him crash back down somewhere as she arched her back and snapped back to her feet-only to be knocked back down again. Two more of them were on her, not trying to hit her, just using their weight and size to keep her on the ground. They weren't strong enough to hold her; nobody was strong enough to hold her, but she couldn't find any real leverage in that position, and everything she'd ever learned about fighting centered on being able to move around and choose an opportunity to strike. Flat on the ground with people lying on top of you was a whole different world of combat.
She did what she could; grabbing anything she could reach and twisting with her full strength, ripping, clawing and bucking violently in an effort to get them off. It was working, too, until the two were joined by a third, then a fourth and fifth. Someone's knee came down on her belly with a lot of force and weight behind it, and even with her super-strong abdominal muscles the breath left her in a rush. She couldn't see anything except thrashing limbs and flailing fists. Some of them still held their weapons, too, and whenever they had a chance they used them. She was bludgeoned and battered, and someone put a long, thin blade deep into her thigh three times in quick succession.
These might not be vampires, but it looked like even plain old humans could get lucky and do something that worked. They were actually managing to hurt her, and though none of the wounds were immediately life threatening, that would change if she gave them time to keep trying.
Faith felt the closest thing to panic that she'd known in a long, long time. She was trapped; caught fast by enemies that were trying to kill her, that were going to kill her, unless she did something. Conscious thought deserted her, lost in a flood of darkness and terror. Writhing in a frenzy born of desperation, she managed to get a hand on the hilt of her knife, and then she ripped it free of the sheath.
The mystic weapon instantly set its teeth into her hand, biting at her with a searing cold that tried to gnaw its way into her very bones. Ignoring that, she rammed it into the belly of the lowermost man in the pile that was pinning her. He grunted, then let loose a garbled scream as he realized he'd been stabbed. Despite his struggles the others stayed where they were, too afraid of her to even think about helping their friend. He was trapped there as surely as she was, helpless to escape even as she sawed the knife back and forth in his gut, then yanked it upwards, into his ribcage. The angle was terrible; the hilt was rammed back into her with the weight of the four men on top of her, and the blade caught in bone. He whimpered softly, while warm blood poured down onto her from the massive wound she'd inflicted.
All the while the two or three men who weren't pinning her fought to inflict whatever damage they could to the parts of her body they could reach. The only thing saving her so far was the fact that their partners were covering her almost completely.
Almost completely. Someone stomped on her left hand, and Slayer or no, bones in two of her fingers snapped. Another someone was digging into the pile, and their clawing fingers managed to reach her face, tearing at her cheek, trying to reach her eyes. She screamed, ducking her head away and fighting with everything she had. She was held almost motionless, the knife stuck in the dead man's ribs and her eyes were about to be gouged out. Something floated up from the furthest recesses of her mind, and she screamed again; one word.
Instantaneously, the resistance that held the knife lodged in the body above her vanished, and she dragged the blade through flesh and bone, freeing a deluge of warm fluids that spilled out onto her body. She didn't care, all that mattered was that she got the weapon up to her face; which she did.
Then she pulled it through the hand that was trying to blind her.
Another scream, and abruptly the pile atop her was lighter, allowing her just a little freedom to move. Thrusting the knife upwards over and over, she stabbed and cut anything she could reach. Even now, with the warm life force pouring into it from its victims, the weapon fought her, slipping and turning in her hand as if it wanted nothing more than to bury itself up inside her as it had once before.
She gripped it with all her might and continued to slash until she felt the weight pinning her shift a final, critical fraction; then she erupted upwards. Throwing the bodies of the dead and dying men off of her, she surged to her feet. Only three of the men were still relatively unhurt, and they were scrambling to put some distance between themselves and their foe. Faith didn't let them get very far. With another scream of animal fury she threw herself atop the nearest, burying one hand in his hair and pulling his head back. A single cut across the throat ended him, the combination of her strength and the preternaturally sharp blade coming close to decapitating him. One of the others turned to run, but it was far too late for that. She crossed the distance to him in a single, long leap; slamming down on top of him and plunging the weapon between his shoulder blades over and over. He sprawled headlong on the ground; already dead by the time he came to rest. The last of them had taken advantage of his comrades' death and was making tracks towards the parking lot. With a wordless snarl, she was on her feet and ready to chase him down, but a shout from nearby caught her attention.
"Faith! Faith, over here!"
She paused, staring at the young man blankly for several seconds before making the connection.
It was Alex. He'd followed her here, for some reason. He was with several others, trying to lever a ladder upright against the building. She looked upwards. The flames were spreading, billowing up into the second floor now, and none of the people trapped there were able to get through them. Alex waved frantically, beaconing her over. Some of her awareness returned, and she looked down, struck by how she must look. She was covered in blood, and worse, from the men she'd gutted. Shame burned through her as she realized that he must have seen at least part of what she'd just done. It was a familiar feeling, and it followed a familiar course. Almost as soon as she felt the shame, it was replaced by rage.That little bastard! What the hell does he think he's doing, playing hero?
She looked down at the men she'd fought. Three of them were still breathing, still struggling weakly; the rest didn't look like they'd be moving ever again.I had to do this; if I hadn't, then they would have killed Captain Courageous over there, and who knows how many other people. They started this fire to begin with!
She nodded sharply, agreeing with the thought. I did good; I saved them, everybody here. They'll thank me, see if they don't.
She was still trembling in the throes of an adrenaline overload, and there was a powerful need to finish off the survivors before going to help Alex. If she left them alive, they might manage to hurt someone else. She should kill them… she wanted to kill them. She pushed that urge back, though not without difficulty, and turned to go help the good samaritans.
It was at that moment that the first bullet tore through her body.
* * * * *