See Chapter One for Disclaimer Faith has thrown herself on the mercy of the Council following her assault on the agents dispatched to capture her. Wyndam-Price insists that he was personally responsible for tracking the girl down and bringing her back to Sunnydale, but I think that rather unlikely. Perhaps Faith realized that without the Council to intercede behind the scenes on her behalf, it would not be long before even the bumbling American police managed to connect her with the deputy mayor's death.
After all, despite all her power, she remains merely a teenage girl; other than the Council, what other option did she have?
Giles has recommended that she not be brought to England for disciplinary action, and I find myself (strangely enough), in agreement with him, though not for the reasons he might believe. He seems to feel that she will do better in familiar surroundings, and with the Summers girl to act as a 'role-model'.
As if Summers were any better than Faith herself.
No. I think she should remain where she is, her and Buffy Summers both. Nowhere on earth is there more danger for a Slayer than upon the Hellmouth. Neither of these girls is suitable for our purposes; that much is now painfully clear. Though I do not condone murder, even when it serves the greater good, neither will I stand in the way of the natural way of things. It would be best for all involved if these two died as they are destined to do; battling the minions of darkness. Their successors, whoever they may be, are awaiting the call.
The sooner that call comes, the better.
Lord William Robert Hayden
Earl of Stapleford
First Seat of the Council
Feb 22, 1999
Taryuu moved slowly across the open, echoing chamber that was the Citadel's ground level. The huge space, which was normally far larger than was actually needed for any of the Clan's purposes, tonight seemed almost oppressively full. The two hundred and fifty soldiers, arranged into loose groups overseen by their immediate superiors, took up most of the available floor. As the man walked among them, he took care to project quiet confidence; these men (and a sprinkling of women) looked to the organization's upper echelon for guidance, and it was his responsibility to present a bold front.
Despite himself, he found that his own morale was boosted by this display of the Storm's might. Though these were only a fraction of the Yakuza's followers in this new territory, the individuals gathered here were the ones who went beyond paying lip service to their foreign masters. These were the ones who believed in the way that they were being taught. These soldiers would gladly enter into battle if commanded; against their former friends, against the police, even against the supernatural. So long as their masters were willing to face the threat alongside them, these would face hell itself.
Taryuu reached the side of the old lobby area, and pushed through a steel fire door. A brisk climb up a winding flight of stairs brought him to another door, which opened onto the mezzanine level. From here, he could look down on the gathering through which he had just passed. From here, Lord Akamori planned to speak to them, in just a few moments. Dai was already in her place, standing near the center of the long balcony span. Resplendent in a sleeveless jumpsuit of emerald green silk, she awaited the night's happenings with an impenetrable serenity. Her guns were tucked into the black sash at her waist, the only ornaments she wore. From the hallway behind her emerged another figure, this one a marked contrast to the slender young woman.
Itai fairly crackled with barely-leashed violence, his every motion a snarl of hatred and shame. Although Nagasu's apprentices had healed his physical injuries, his soul had sorely wounded. Not only had he been beaten in hand-to-hand combat by Faith; every single person present tonight knew of his defeat. To a warrior of his caliber (and pride, Taryuu thought to himself), that was a punishment nearly worse than death itself. So great was the man's need for revenge, it had been necessary to include him in Nagasu's plan to magically bind the spirit warrior's will. Even though he would not be permitted to kill the girl, the chance to once again match himself against her was enough to bring the headstrong Itai into line. At least, Taryuu hoped that was the case. If the man lost control of himself and finished Faith, Akamori's fury might well lead to another death following soon after the girl's.
Itai spared the older man hardly a glance, striding past with a set expression on his face. He vanished through the door leading to the stairs, doubtless going to finish his preparations for the coming battle. A moment later, Taryuu forgot all about him, as his lord and master made his appearance.
Akamori was dressed simply; in a black Gi whose sleeves just reached his muscular forearms. The robe-like trouser legs brushed the floor; the ancient Samurai had worn such clothing, which was designed to hide a swordsman's footwork from his opponent. The young lord wore his sword at his side, the Katanna's lacquered wood sheath thrust through his sash, and held steady by his left hand. To the casual observer he looked calm, though through long association Taryuu was able to see the excitement the man tried to conceal.
Accompanying the Clan's leader was Nagasu. The sorcerer was almost painful to look at in his glittering robes, with a long staff of what seemed to be polished bone held in one hand. Taryuu again noted that only three of the man's apprentices were present, and he wondered where the others might be.
Akamori stepped to the heavy wood railing that enclosed the balcony, and the murmurs of the gathered soldiers grew still. The young man stood silently for a time, his eyes roving over the upturned faces of the men and women below, then passing briefly over those who shared the mezzanine level with him, lining the balcony that ringed the open space. They looked back at him; every one of them attentive and waiting.
"In the months that have passed since my arrival here, in this city, one thing has been clear from the very beginning. There is no one in this place, man or woman, who can oppose the Thousand Year Storm." The young man's clear, strong voice carried easily through the cavernous room, conveying his confidence and determination. "Many have sought to deny us our due, but inevitably, each has failed. Every foe that has risen to face us has been vanquished, every petty thief who has sought to avoid our sight has ultimately been found. Every rival organization that has sought to dominate us has fallen, in their turn, to our power." All true, and everyone present here tonight knew it to be so. Most had participated in more than one of those victories, thus earning their places at this gathering. Akamori spread his hands outwards in an all-encompassing gesture. "At this moment, a vast portion of this city lies beneath our heel. Those parts we do not yet control quiver in fear, knowing that soon we will turn our attention to them, and they too will be our servants." He looked down at the gathered men and women, his gaze drawing each one of them into the weave of his words. This, Taryuu knew, was one of his greatest abilities, to instill in his followers a sense of connection with the whole, a personal devotion to his cause. "The secret of our victories, the source of our strength, is that we think and act as one. The discipline of my homeland, fused with the vitality of this new world, gives us a power than none we face can withstand. So long as each of us works for the good of the whole, we will continue to prevail." Not exactly groundbreaking philosophy, true, but when he said it, people believed. Every one of them was hanging on his words.
"Now, however, we face a new obstacle, one which few of you would have even believed possible, in your old lives. The world often resists change; it seeks to continue in its old, familiar ways. So it is now. When it became clear that the people of this city could not stand against us, the Kami, the spirits of this place, called forth a champion to oppose our rise. A girl, invested with the power of the Kami, has come to challenge you, to challenge us. She has faced some of our brothers already, and has shown them her power. Some she has humbled, many she has slain. She comes here tonight, thinking to destroy us all."
That roused many of them to sneer in derision; no matter what tales they had heard from their fellows, they could not seriously believe one girl posed a threat to them. Others among the gathering did believe, and their apprehension was enough to make Akamori spread his hands in a reassuring gesture.
"That will not be permitted. Though she is a spirit warrior, she is but one. We are The Thousand Year Storm, and ours is the power of many. You will be witness to our strength, as we bind her to our will. After tonight, Faith will either serve us, or she will rest in the grave.
"You have already been given your instructions, but I will repeat them. When she comes, you will offer no insult. You will make no hostile move against her. Her confrontation is with me, and with my chosen champion. If the worst happens, I plan to deal with her myself." Taryuu shifted uncomfortably. He knew of his lord's desire to match himself against the girl, but he still felt it was foolhardy to even consider such a thing. "However, if attacked, you will of course defend yourselves. Before your massed strength, even a spirit warrior must fall. Before the Storm, no creature may stand."
As one, the soldiers below and those lining the balcony raised their fists into the air, bellowing their defiance. Akamori nodded his approval, his shout carrying even over their massed voices.
"Tonight, the last hope of those who oppose us will be crushed, and our domination of this city will be assured!"
The roar that followed made the very building seem to shake.
* * * * *
Faith had a headache. She almost laughed out loud at the thought; here she was, about to go up against odds steeper than any Slayer had ever faced, and all she could find to focus on was that her head hurt. Actually, it was more of a pressure than simple pain, and it seemed to be getting worse, the closer she came to…. There it was now.
The place looked like it had started out wanting to be a castle, but had ended up being a prison instead. Drab gray concrete, narrow slot windows on the ground floor and slightly wider ones above; even the wide main entrance was made forbidding by the presence of a dozen guards armed with submachine guns.
Faith walked boldly up the shallow stone steps, straight at the men. They fanned out, their eyes darting from her to the empty street beyond, then back to her again. Two of the bravest took a few hesitant steps toward her, but she hit them with her best warning look. Lay a hand on me and die now. Back off, and you get to breathe for a while longer.
They backed away, though one of them at least had the guts to speak.
She spread her arms, as if to ask where exactly he thought she might be hiding something. Twelve pairs of eyes moved over her, and though the empty knife sheath caused some confusion, it was obvious that she couldn't be carrying much in the way of concealed weaponry. When she started for the door, six of them fell in around her. The others stayed outside, which worried her a little, but there wasn't anything she could do about it right now.
As she stepped through the wide doorway, Faith stumbled, nearly falling as something like an electric shock jolted her. "Bake a small car, been so cool, jinky then, gone barbie. Lucy boo eerie wagon junction clearly you."
A voice whispered the nonsense words into her ear, though there was no one close enough to have done so. She felt dizzy, disoriented, and it wasn't beyond the realm of possibility that she would vomit. She thought for a second that one of the guards had managed to taser her, but she quickly dismissed that. Standing up straight, she tried to pass off the lapse as just a pause to gather herself. A quick glance at the men as they walked through the door behind her showed that none of them seemed to feel anything strange. I've felt something like that before,
She realized suddenly. When the mayor cast magical barriers, to keep Willow and Giles from spying on us magically, it felt a little like that. Well, sort of.
It was magic, then. She tried to keep the sound of her grinding teeth below the limits of human hearing. I hate magic. At least, I hate it when the other side is using it.
Even inside the building, she could feel a nearly subliminal tingle in the air. Whatever was going on here, it wasn't confined to a wall around the structure. There was power here, an oppressive feeling like a weight hanging above her head. It didn't help matters that she had been feeling a little odd already. The pressure in her head was still growing more intense; it pounded in time to her pulse, right behind her eyes. She could detect something almost like an itch in the front of her brain, and Faith found herself wondering if she might be about to have some kind of seizure.
The scene that awaited her drove those thoughts from her mind. Hundreds of people, every one of them armed, were gathered in the center of the huge room. As she walked forward, the assembled crowd turned to watch her, scattered whispers from them the only sound. Their eyes, and those of the individuals that lined the balcony above, were like a weight, adding to the already disconcerting sensation of the magic she still sensed. Faith moved forward at a slow, relentless pace, scanning their faces. There was hatred there, though most were dominated by a sort of savage glee; an anticipation of that they thought was about to happen to her. They seemed to relish the idea of watching her being hurt or killed right there in front of them.
She knew the feeling, far too well. The hatred she had for them was the same hatred she had for that part of herself, the twisted and tainted part of her soul that would never be clean. They deserved to die, each and every one of them, and she wanted to be the one to do it. Killing these monsters in human form would be a sort of catharsis for her, proof that she could defeat that inner darkness. At least, she hoped that would be the case. The look in her eyes must have conveyed her own thoughts on what was going to be taking place here shortly, because they moved back, opening a path for her to the center of the floor. One hundred and ninety-three of them on the floor.
The sudden thought came out of nowhere, and she blinked, nearly pulling up short. With an effort, she continued walking, with only a brief glance around. Her eyes flickered across the balcony that encircled the room. Sixty-eight up there, not counting the eleven at this end.
She shook her head slightly, unsure of how she knew that. She hadn't even tried to count; the numbers had just popped into her head. The headache wasn't any worse, but it almost seemed to move, extending further back into her head. Hell of a time to have a stroke, or whatever.
Except it wasn't a stroke, or a seizure. She didn't know what it was, but it was definitely something…. Without realizing it, she had reached the center of the floor and halted. Ignoring the men and women gathered all around, her eyes rose until she was looking at the leader of her enemies. On the surface there was nothing to distinguish that one man on the balcony from any of the others who stood up there, looking down at her, but she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was the one.
Younger than most of them, and dressed more simply too, had an air of command about him. His eyes met hers across the intervening space, and there was an instant knowledge of the other. Faith realized that no matter how many other foes she fought tonight, no matter what else she had to go through, defeating him would be the real challenge. It would also be the only way to destroy the entity that was the Thousand Year Storm. He was its heart, its soul. Without him, it would all fall apart.
Taking a comfortable but ready stance, she focused on her opponent and waited.
* * * * *
Taryuu felt a twinge of concern as the girl simply stood there, neither speaking or moving. When she had appeared, he had felt relief; finally she was here, where the Clan could deal with her. A subtle signal from one of his men down by the main entrance confirmed that she had come alone, and that should have meant that the rest of this night was a foregone conclusion. There was simply no way the girl could hope to defeat the might that was arrayed against her.
The way she held herself, the calm poise with which she'd walked across the floor, as if she were the one who held the Clan's fate in her hands, and not the other way around; it roused his wariness. This girl, who even now stood tall and regal even in the midst of her enemies, this was not the same girl he had seen earlier at the hotel. That Faith had been an animal, savage and uncontrolled. This young woman resembled her in appearance only; something fundamental had changed, and that could well mean trouble for they had planned for her.
Finally, the young lord broke the silence.
"Welcome, Faith." Looking to his right, Taryuu saw his master smile slightly even as he spoke. "I am Akamori, Lord of the Thousand Year Storm. In the name of my Clan, I thank you for the honor of your visit." That might have smacked of sarcasm, if not for the way it had been spoken. He wondered if the younger man knew how much of his lust was visible on his face, how it carried in his voice. "We have heard much of your skill, and I have very much looked forward to meeting you, to see for myself your battle prowess."
That was a perfect opening for a retaliatory outburst, or at the very least a display of boastful bravado, but Faith did neither. Instead, she merely stood there, seemingly oblivious of everyone other than Akamori. Her dark eyes locked on his, her pale face beautiful and composed, she waited.
The young man frowned slightly. Despite his obvious desire for the attractive woman, his pride would not allow the sort of challenge she was offering. The soldiers who stood around her were beginning to shift restlessly, uncertain as to what was supposed to be happening. They seemed as uneasy as Taryuu himself, wondering at her apparent lack of concern, despite the overwhelming odds against her. Akamori stood rigidly straight, and the hand gripping the hilt of his sheathed Katanna grew white.
"Despite your interference with our activities, and the deaths of our adopted kinsmen, I am prepared to be lenient with you. This surrender-" He stressed the word, then paused, but still she gave no response; she made no acknowledgement that he was even speaking. "-indicates that you are willing to put an end to these rash acts of violence against us. If you will swear fealty to me, before the eyes of all present here tonight, then all will be forgiven." His eyes narrowed, and the next words he spoke were no so pleasant in tone. "However, should you fail to accept this most generous offer, we will be forced to take matters into our own hands."
She did not reply; she seemed not even to be blinking, those eyes continued to bore into Akamori. As unobtrusively as possible, Taryuu edged over to where Nagasu stood. The sorcerer was frowning, gazing down at the girl with seemingly unfocused eyes.
"What is happening?" He whispered to the robed man, pitching his voice as low as he could manage. "Something about her has changed; will it affect your spell?"
Nagasu made a slight gesture, his attention still focused upon the Spirit Warrior.
"… Some manner of entity, or magical construct, hanging near her shoulder, so well hidden that only a master would ever notice it." The man muttered, forcing Taryuu to lean forward to make out the words. "Scarlet and Gold, her power and some other…. Bound together?" He scowled, a small crease forming between his brows. "What is it? What can it be waiting for?"
Unable to decipher this mystical rambling, the former soldier tried to reach out and shake the man, but some unseen force repelled his hand. Taryuu paused, realizing that a protective barrier of some kind surrounded the sorcerer. Finally deigning to notice his presence, Nagasu blinked, then turned his attention to the man beside him.
"Quell your fears. No matter what she may try, her fate is sealed." His lips did not move, Taryuu realized with a chill. The words were coming directly into his mind. "So long as Itai plays his part, we will leash her handily. Now leave me alone. I must concentrate."
A few steps away, Akamori was plainly having difficulty holding on to his temper.
"I am waiting for your answer, girl. My patience is not without limit!" Taryuu resumed his place, hoping that no one had noticed the whispered conference. As he did so, he glanced sidelong at his lord. The man was flushed, the quick anger of youth betraying his best effort at control.
"We know who you are. Faith, the rogue spirit warrior; of the line the Europeans call 'Slayer'. The tales that have reached my ears speak of you. You have a reputation as a savage fighter, but it is also whispered that you are tainted with madness, and with a joy of killing, especially the weak and helpless." That made her stiffen slightly, and her eyes fairly blazed, but still she said nothing. Akamori's voice grew thoughtful. "I suppose your lust for murder explains why you no longer hunt vampires, and instead use treachery and surprise in order to kill my followers, even though we have no grievance with you." His gentle smile was benevolence itself. "I, however, am not one to dwell upon the past. All your crimes against us will be forgiven. I will guide you, give you the direction you require, and what has gone before will be forgotten. Neither me nor mine will harm you, and the power of the Clan will shield you from the police, who will otherwise surely find you sooner or later. I give you this chance to join us of your own free will-" Well, Taryuu mused, it would be her free will in the sense that her every decision would be bound about with fences of magical compulsion, but Akamori did not mention that part aloud; doubtless a wise decision. "-If you refuse, then my mercy shall be withheld, and you will feel the unending wrath of the Thousand Year Storm!"
Silence thick enough to cut filled the hall following that, and Taryuu joined every other person present in watching the girl who stood alone in the center of the floor, awaiting her response. Long moments passed, and when she finally spoke the voice of the Spirit Warrior rang out loud and clear.
* * * * *
Faith was very much aware of just how alone she was in this place. What she had to say was going to upset all of these heavily armed people, most of whom already didn't seem to like her very much. That wasn't going to stop her; she needed to say it.
"You're too late." She looked up, straight at the one in charge, the one who had been speaking to her, and she felt her mouth quirk into a little sneer. "If you're looking for me to join up with you, you're in for some disappointment. But the part about giving me some focus, and direction, there you're not wrong. I did need somebody to show me what I'm supposed to be doing." She turned her head, scanning the faces along the balcony, and in the circle of Yakuza soldiers that surrounded her at ground level. The avid hate she saw there, the need to inflict pain on others in order to prove just how tough they were… it was a sobering mirror to stare into. She looked back up at Akamori. "You've done that; you and your little gang of rapists and killers did a great job of showing me what I need to do. That's why I'm here."
The man looked faintly amazed; and more than a little amused.
"You see yourself as some manner of avenger? You're here to exact revenge for those pitiable wretches who cower in the shadows rather than face us openly?" He shook his head in a theatrical display of sadness. "I had hoped for better of you, than to throw your life away in such a gesture."
Faith laughed. It wasn't really the time or place for it, but she just couldn't help it.
"You think you're not in any danger, here? You think one little white girl can't do you any damage?" She felt a little insulted; most people she met were smart enough to be at least a little bit scared of her. This man must have been in charge of his own little kingdom for a fair while, to not have that sort of basic survival instinct.
"You think you're invincible, don't you? You think that just because you paid off the cops, and had your army of goons here scared everybody into hiding that nobody can hurt you?" Her hands on her hips, she looked him dead in the eye, letting her certainty fill her voice. "You're wrong. Nobody's invulnerable; I learned that up close and personal." He seemed unaffected, but a stirring ran through those gathered around her, as the lesser thugs suddenly experienced a small bout of uneasiness. She ignored them, right now her business was with their boss. "All this criminal stuff you're doing here, that's nothing to me. Somebody's always going to be selling drugs, or running hookers, or fencing stolen stuff, and it doesn't really matter who that is. But what you've been doing here; killing anybody who won't go along, raping and torturing people just to prove how bad you are… that's…." She shrugged, and a grim smile flitted briefly across her lips. "That's wrong."
Akamori's eyebrows had risen fractionally; he must not have been used to people talking to him like that.
"Who are you, girl, to judge what we do? You yourself are a murderer, a killer of innocent men and women. You've turned your back on your sworn duty, spit upon everything your calling stands for. What gives you the right to interfere with us? What claim to a higher morality can you possibly possess?"
Good questions, and she didn't have a really good answer.
"You're right, mostly. I'm not any better than you, no matter how much I wish I was." She rubbed her palms across the fabric of her jeans; so much blood had stained those hands, sometimes she thought it should be visible to anyone who bothered to look. "I've was a good guy for awhile, but it didn't take long for me to screw that up. I've been the villain, and of course the hero came along and wiped the floor with me. I've been the victim and I've been the evil bitch killer who makes everyone else the victim." She could tell that he didn't understand; hell she wasn't sure herself why she was bothering with all of this instead of just jumping in and starting with the mayhem. It was just… she had to do this right. If this was the point where everything changed for her, she had to explain why, if only to the bastards that she was about to take down. "I'm not a saint, not a Slayer; I'm a fighter, a killer. It's what I am, what I was born for. I can't turn that off, not without losing what makes me who I am." No matter what some people would rather believe, you couldn't just ignore the things that lived in your soul. If you tried, you only ended up going crazy. She knew; she'd been there "But I can make sure that I only hurt the ones who deserve it, people who are as messed up as I am, or worse because they can't even see what they are." Buffy wouldn't get it, she would think it was just talk, that Faith was making excuses to justify doing what she'd always done. Willow would probably pull out one of her college textbooks and make a diagnosis of chronic homicidal rage, or some crap like that. None of that mattered. She knew what she was, now. She could be someone who made the world better, even if the only thing she knew how to do was kill. "I doubt anyone will love me, but only sick bastards like you will have to be afraid of me." She shook back her hair and flexed her hands, feeling her body's rhythms change as the time for talking drew to a close.
"All that's left for you now is to say goodbye, 'cause you and your people are done here."
Akamori was not pleased. His eyes rested briefly on the people around her who seemed the most disturbed by what she had said, watching as they stilled beneath the weight of his impassive gaze. When he looked back to her, his voice held a slightly mocking tone.
"Grand words, but spirit warrior or not, you are only one girl. What can you hope to do against us?"
Faith flashed her teeth at him in a predatory smile.
"You have no idea what I can do, but believe me, you're about to find out."
She extended her right arm out to one side, and sent out a mental summons.Come.
With a rippling shimmer of gold and scarlet light, her knife materialized in her hand. The men and women surrounding her were definitely impressed by that; half of them were in the process of raising guns, the rest of them were brandishing melee weapons of their own. Akamori's stern voice held them in check.
"No; remember my words." They subsided a bit, albeit reluctantly. She had the feeling that if she'd pulled a gun out of empty air, somebody would have gone ahead and shot her just to be safe, orders or no. Of course, they had no way of knowing that the weapon she held was more dangerous than any gun. "Faith, you need not do this. If you force us into battle, you may not survive." She recognized the look he was giving her; every man in a club who'd seen her dance had that look. It made her think a little less of him, that he was talking all grand and generous, when a big part of his motivation was that he wanted to get into her pants. "You have the potential to be a powerful ally to our clan. Don't throw that away."
The energy was building inside her; the awareness that enemies surrounded her was making her heart pound faster, driving her to do what she'd come here to do. Her voice deepened, and she took a step forward, falling into a ready stance almost without being aware of what she was doing.
"You are wrong in so many ways. I'm not Faith, not tonight; and I'm not something for you to use in your plans. I'm the end of your plans, you stupid shit; the end of the little empire you wanted to build here. I'm the payback, from all the victims you thought didn't have the power to make you pay for what you did to them."The kid, Jason, dead in a vacant lot because she hadn't been there. Scott's friend, with nails driven through his flesh, as an example. Kelly's face, bruised and bloody, her eyes filled with horror and the loss of whatever innocence the streets had left to her.
Faith trembled, not with the fear of what was coming, but with an anticipation so powerful it nearly drew tears from her eyes.
"I'm vengeance, and destruction, and the nightmare that made you wet the bed when you were ten." She raised the knife she held, and the many lights in the room turned it into a thing of wicked beauty. "I am fucking death incarnate, and I'm here to make sure every last one of you gets what's coming to him. We're done talking, asshole. Come and face me, it's time for you to die."
* * * * *