See Chapter One for Disclaimer
What is a Warrior?
Well, for one thing, it isn't the same thing as being a Soldier. The Watcher's Council wanted soldiers, they wanted a Slayer to obey without question, to sacrifice herself willingly in the war against the dark, without thought to herself or her loved ones. A soldier follows orders, but they are trained not to go one inch farther than is necessary to fulfill those orders. They have no goal other than to achieve their objective, and they trust in their superiors to make their choices for them. A robot, more or less.
A Warrior is different. Fiercer, more independent; a Warrior doesn't necessarily work well in a team, and they are not the kind of person who excels at following orders.
But give them a battle, and they can win it. Show them a foe, and they can kill it. They demonstrate that someone with character and intelligence is more effective as a fighter because of those traits.
A Warrior trusts in herself, because she knows she has what it takes to not only get the job done, but to decide which jobs need doing.
Buffy Summers refused to be just another Soldier; she broke away from the Council because she believed-and rightly so-that her judgment was better than theirs. But if Buffy broke the Slayer's mold, then Faith shattered it completely. Ignoring the demands of Council, and escaping the constraints of being a Slayer, she chose her own path, embraced her own power, and shaped herself into what she had always been meant to be.
From the book 'A light amidst the Shadows'
By Marcus Durr
Published by Baen Books; 2007
She started forward. Either Scott and his people were running late, or she'd completely lost track of the minutes, but either way she was ready to get started. The ones crowded together on the ground floor could wait; the little group up on the balcony were the dangerous ones, and if she could take them out quick, the rest would-
Faith stopped dead, staring at the man who had emerged from behind one of the doors in the far wall, back under the balcony where the big boss and his cronies stood. Well now what?
She wondered. As the figure slowly walked forward, she felt a jolt of recognition pass through her. Oh, great. It's him.
* * * * *
Incredible. She really is going to do battle with us, one woman alone against the might of the entire Clan.
Taryuu could admire her courage, even as he awaited her defeat. The trick with the knife had been a surprise, but he and the other senior members of the Storm had planned for worse than this. She had no way of knowing what was going to happen next.
It began with a shout that froze Faith in her tracks. Moments later, Itai came into view, moving with low, gliding steps towards the young woman. He carried a Naginata in his hands, a spear with a long, curved blade at one end, equally useful for slashing and stabbing. Itai was an expert in its use, and he began to spin it as he advanced, weaving the weapon back and forth, from one side of his body to the other.
"You thought me dead, didn't you?" He moved to circle to the girl's left, and she turned to stay facing him. The onlookers around them edged back, giving them both more space. Itai bared his teeth, though it was more grimace than smile. "You surprised me before, but this time I will defeat you."
Faith looked a little puzzled, as well she might.
"What do you think you're doing?" Her eyes flicked to the whirling spear, then back to the man's face. "I already trashed your ass once, what makes you think you'll do any better this time?"
That casual dismissal was too much for the enforcer's already battered pride; an insult that he could not allow to pass unanswered. With a shout, he leapt forward. Taryuu glanced at where Nagasu stood, surrounded by his apprentices. Their eyes intent on the scene below, the three lesser sorcerers (why only three, he wondered again) chanted softly in unison, while their master whispered something indecipherable in counterpoint, his hands moving in slow, graceful gestures. This was the true attack; though he did not realize it, Itai was nothing but a diversion; and in a way, a sacrifice as well. That last didn't sit well with Taryuu. Even though he was insufferably arrogant, the man was completely loyal to the Clan, and performed his assignments flawlessly. To cast him away like this, even though it would result in the acquisition of something as valuable as the girl… that was too much like betrayal for his peace of mind.
His feelings in the matter were, of course, irrelevant. The decision had been made, and now there was nothing for him to do but watch as things played themselves out on the floor below.
* * * * *
This wasn't exactly how she'd envisioned this thing getting underway. Faith threw herself to the side as the gleaming blade came slicing down at her, then hopped backwards and sucked in her stomach as the blade reversed directions and came across in a slice that missed gutting her by less than an inch. No thanks; been there, done that.
Itai came after her, pursuing relentlessly, not giving her any time to put together a plan. Of course, she didn't really need a plan, not against one guy, anyway. He was backing her towards the ring of onlookers, and there was a good chance that if someone saw a chance to put a knife in her back they would take it, so she leapt forward instead. Bounding straight over him in a triple front somersault, she had to reach out in the middle of the second rotation and slap away the spear point that otherwise would have spitted her. Landing on the far side, she instantly dropped to the floor, which allowed the expected thrust to pass harmlessly over her head, while simultaneously getting her close enough to use a leg to sweep his feet out from under him.
His training showed though, as he hit the ground rolling away to gain room and vaulted to his feet without ever losing his grip on the freaky spear. Faith had regained her own feet without noticing how exactly she'd done it, and was already moving forward. Okay then. If he really wants to be the first one to die, I can do that for him. I'll do him quick, though. None of that torture stuff I pulled last time. That was important, if she was to keep control of herself. They all deserve to die, but I don't need to make them suffer. I'm not going to do that, anymore. I'm going to be better than they are.
On the heels of that thought, Itai spun forward. Whirling as he advanced, turning a complete circle, he brought the spear around, striking with both the butt end and the blade, over and over in a lightning-quick series of attacks that had Faith backing up again. Blocking with both knife and hand, she managed to keep from being hit or stabbed anywhere vital, but by the time she managed to disengage she sported a long, shallow cut across her right shoulder, and a painfully throbbing spot on her shin. It wasn't anything critical; the bleeding stopped almost before she noticed it, and the pain from where she'd had to block with her shin was already fading, but that didn't stop the wave of white-hot fury from smashing through her.
"You little--!" She choked on the rage, literally too angry to get the words out. Settling for action, she hurled herself directly at him, using her knife to block the spear blade out wide to the side as she reached for his throat. Itai responded by hopping backwards to prolong her approach, and going with the momentum she'd imparted on his weapon, bringing the haft across in a blindingly fast strike that took nearly took her head off. Everything went black--
--Awareness returned as she crashed into the hard concrete floor. The crowd of onlookers was screaming their approval, jeering at her as she stared up at their strangely blurred forms. The hate she felt for them was so fierce that it felt like lava, burning a hole through her chest, eating her alive from the inside out. You're going to die, every last one of you.
Her vision cleared in time to show her Itai striding forward, taking his time and basking in the cheers from the crowd. You first. I'm going to cut you into so many pieces your mother wouldn't recognize you, and you're going to stay awake the whole time….
He stood over her, just out of reach if she made a try for him, but within striking range of his spear. He raised it overhead, the blade poised and ready even as he grinned at her with triumph. With a grunt of effort, he drove the spear down. Faith's hands blurred as she lunged up off the floor, her left palm striking the shaft in one direction, and her right driving it the other way. She was trying to make the blade miss her, and at the same time rip the shaft out of his hands.
She didn't manage either. The weapon was deflected enough so that it didn't punch through her sternum, but it still caught her along the ribs, cutting deeply enough to grate on bone before skidding on the concrete underneath her. Itai also managed to hold onto the spear, though he was forced to leap over her prone body to regain his balance. After having been driven back flat from the impact of the blade, Faith rolled to her feet, clutching at her side. This one was deep enough to not clot quickly, and blood ran in several small trickles from the wound. She was breathing hard, more from the weight of unresolved fury than the exertion. I can't believe I screwed that up. First I let him deck me, then I fumble that disarm.
A red haze seemed to surround Itai as she glared at him, and she shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts. My knife, where's my knife?
It had to be somewhere nearby on the floor, but she couldn't look away from her opponent. It seemed more important to get her hands on him, to hear the delicious crack of breaking bone, than it did to recover the weapon. She rushed at the man, bare hands at the ready. Somewhere in the back of her mind, behind the solid wall of rage, came a faint, desperate thought. What's wrong with me?
* * * * *
Taryuu watched as the girl's cold determination quickly fractured into the reckless rage he remembered from their previous encounter. It might well have happened anyway, in the heat of combat, but steps had been taken to ensure it. He turned his head and looked at the author of the plan.
Nagasu's face was pale, his features etched with the strain of his spellcasting. From what he'd gathered, Taryuu knew that subverting someone's will in this manner was far more difficult than altering mere physical reality. Without the aid of a demon or some similar entity, a sorcerer might spend days gaining even moderate influence over someone's innermost thoughts and emotions; if the victim were someone of inordinately strong will, it might prove impossible. Nagasu, however, had made this his specialty, and he had the aid of three other magicians to support him. With the lesser sorcerers combining their powers to force the woman's fury to the surface, their master was free to enact his binding spell. Faith, intent upon the physical battle and maddened by the sudden onslaught of her mystically released rage, ultimately had no chance of resisting such a powerful assault. In a minute or two, she would be bound inextricably to the Storm.
* * * * *
The spear gave Itai such a huge advantage in reach that Faith was getting hit every time she tried to close with him, but she was past caring. Sheer hate pushed her forward, through the punishing impact of the haft against her hip and back, despite the fresh cuts that laced her forearms; legacy of blocks that had kept the blade from her vitals but only with a price paid in blood. The man was backing away now, disconcerted despite himself at her refusal to take a single step backwards, no matter what it cost her. He thrust at her again, and though the attack drew blood, he was just a bit slow in retracting after the strike. There were an hundred ways she could have turned it to her favor; from a clean disarm to a quick reversal which would have ended the fight in an instant, but she couldn't think past her need to hurt him.
Catching hold of the spear just above the blade, she stepped forward alongside it and snapped a kick up at his groin. He could have skipped back and evaded it, but that would have meant letting go of his weapon. Instead, he brought his own leg up to block, catching the blow on the side of his shin. It looked like a textbook kickboxing move, but her kicks had a lot more force behind them than anything human. The snap of breaking bone brought a vicious smile to her face, and Itai couldn't contain a grunt, though he didn't cry out. Favoring that leg, he tried desperately to take the spear away from her, but there was no way he could manage that, and she laughed out loud as his best effort failed to budge her. His face had already gone white with pain, but hate and shame twisted it into a pale mask as he launched himself into the air. Lacking a solid leg to balance on, he instead used the spear itself to brace, twisting himself up and around to fire a kick at her face with his good leg. She kept hold of the weapon, bringing her end up and around, even against his weight, using the blade to block his foot aside and inflict a gaping wound at the same time. Carrying through with the movement, she stepped forward into his still-airborne body, entangling the shaft in his arms and legs even as she twisted it to one side, drawing strength up from her firmly planted leg, through her hips and back, and finally into both her shoulders and arms. She spun the spear; imparting such a powerful rotation to his body that he cartwheeled helplessly across thirty feet of space before smashing into the frontmost of the onlookers. Five of them went down in a heap with Itai sprawled on top of them.
Faith raised the spear over her head with both hands, and with a hoarse shriek she broke it in two. The exertion caused fresh blood to seep from the cut across her side, but she barely noticed. The pain she felt was background noise, almost pleasurable in a way. She began walking slowly forward, savoring the fearful looks the little men gave her as they scrambled to their feet and backed away from her fallen foe. The two lengths of broken spear balanced nicely in her hands, one a club, the other ending in a wickedly curved blade. Itai saw her coming, but he was badly hurt now. One leg broken and the other half-severed just above the foot, one of his arms hanging limp and useless at his side, the best he could manage was an awkward crawl backwards. Faith felt a rush of pleasure as she surveyed her work. Oooh, poor baby. That shoulder looks dislocated; that really hurts bad.
She smiled brightly as she reached him, ignoring the crowd that moved back to give her room. I'll bet I can make it hurt worse.
The club end she held came back, then blurred down and across, smashing into the knee of the broken leg. The crunch of pulverizing bone was followed by an anguished scream from the helpless man. She paused just long enough for him to regain his senses, to see the next one coming, and then she swung the end with the blade. What am I doing?
It was a feeble thought, nearly lost in the sickly-sweet rush that went through her at the sight of the fresh blood welling up from the cut she'd just scored across his flat stomach. The sensation was so familiar, that twisted, nauseating pleasure so deeply rooted in her soul, that it almost didn't occur to her to question it. This was what she was, what she'd always been, what she would… always… be. No; please, god, no.
The grin on her face felt like it had been nailed there, so wide and fixed that it was painful.
The club came back, then blurred down, and it did it again, and again, and again….
* * * * *
Taryuu watched the torture being dealt out, his face a mask of stone. A scattered few of the soldiers below moved, as if to help Itai, but their group leaders pulled them back. Those men had been briefed on the likely outcome, and been given orders not to interfere. Most of the men and women didn't have to be restrained; Itai had not been well liked by the lower ranks.
The man's cries had faded to sobs and whimpers now, and the pool of blood he lay in was spreading wider. Faith paused, staring down at the broken body, seemingly unaware of anything else. On the balcony beside him, Taryuu heard the lesser sorcerers deepen their chant, and he watched as two of them clutched at carefully prepared charms drawn from pouches at their belts. Nagasu also held some manner of talisman now; a small cube of glass or crystal, laced with threads of black and sickly-pulsing green. The man extended his arm, and clenched his hand tight around the cube, staring all the while at the girl below.
Faith swayed where she stood, then fell to her knees beside Itai. Her eyes still locked on his face, she leaned close to stare at him, the ends of her hair trailing in the blood that surrounded him. The soldiers around the pair stirred uneasily, many turning and looking to Lord Akamori for guidance. The leader of the Storm stepped forward to the railing and spread his arms wide.
"Calmly now, calmly." His eyes swept over the faces turned up to him, and his face was grave. "Our noble warrior Itai can be healed, now that the girl is subdued. And she is subdued, thanks to the magicks of the lord Nagasu." The young man half-turned to the sorcerer, but the intense concentration on the other man's face made it obvious that he was not able to make any speeches at that moment. Taryuu felt a twinge of concern as Akamori turned back to his audience. Nagasu's hand held the crystal cube in a death grip, and the chanting of his students held an urgent note. Perhaps the girl was proving more of a challenge than the man had believed possible.
"You have seen for yourselves what a terrible opponent Faith can be. Many of your fellows have leaned that lesson in quite a fatal way, these last few days." Many dark and hateful looks were directed towards the motionless girl, but she saw none of them, remaining crouched, motionless over her victim. "I tell you now that this will be forgotten, as she joins your ranks. Leashed by magic, she will be your attack dog, obeying only our will, and striking terror into the hearts of all who would dare oppose us!" This was more to their liking; shouts of approval, and not a few howls and barks rose to echo around the barren stone chamber. Akamori smiled broadly, raising his arms as if in benediction. "None shall stand against the coming of the Storm!" The roar that came in response seemed loud as thunder, but Taryuu scarcely heard it. Instead, he was watching the sweat run in rivers down Nagasu's pale face.
* * * * *
Something was happening inside her head. She could feel tendrils of burning, unreasoning fury burrowing deeper into her mind with every passing moment, and there didn't seem to be anything she could do to stop it.
--Why would I want to stop it?-
She looked into Itai's puffy, swollen face, reveling in the dull horror in his eyes. Even mostly dead, he knew how powerful she was, how she had beaten him yet again, and the satisfaction that brought her was so sweet….
--I can have this, this freedom to destroy and be feared, and all I have to do is let it happen.-
She no longer feared death, but feeling how much she wanted to do just that, Faith knew fear. No. I already faced this, and I decided that I want to change.
It had felt so good making that decision, realizing that it was within her power to become a person she could live with… but this felt good too, even if it sickened her at the same time.
--This power isn't something I should give up. Just because no one else is strong enough to do what I do doesn't mean that it's wrong. It only proves that I'm better than they are. If they can't stop me, then they don't deserve to live.-
She closed her eyes, trying to shut out the image of Itai lying there, bloody and broken at her hand. She saw only darkness, but that didn't shut out that voice. It didn't shut it out because it was a part of her; the worst part.
--I'll show them, I'll show all of them. They think they're so special, with their money and their friends and families. Eating together around the dinner table, going to college and out on dates and Christmas around the tree. I hate them all, and I'll kill them all, one by one. I'll take it all away, just like they took it away from me, and they'll know who did it to them before I finally let them die-
It was Buffy she was seeing in the darkness of her mind. Buffy, and Willow, and Mrs. Summers and Giles… all of them, shredded and screaming and herself there laughing as she did things that made her want to vomit just slightly more than it made her want to giggle with glee. The sweet, horrible hatred burned through her, like a river of burning sewage flowing through her veins. The more she tried to fight it, to deny it, the stronger it grew. Please, no. I don't want to do that. This is something that they're doing; they're making me feel this way.
Gales of laughter blew through her mind, and she felt herself slipping further towards oblivion.
--Wrong, sweetheart. This is you, all of this is you. All that's happening here is that it's all coming out into the open. No more hiding, right?--
Her dark self was so much stronger than the rest of her, which only made sense since it was so large a part of her. Everything inside her wanted to let go of the thin veneer of control and conscience she'd discovered; it would be so easy to become just a weapon again, to kill for nothing more than the sheer joy of it all….
She was nearly lost now, drowning in a sea of darkness, and there was nothing she could do. No matter hard she fought to deny it…. Wait.
It was true, what her other half had said. Those feelings really were a part of her, and deep down she'd always known it. It was a waste of her strength to try and fight against those portions of her soul, because…. Because I'm only fighting myself.
Denying the darkness only made it stronger, she'd come to realize that over the last couple of days. If she were going to keep hold of what she was, then she would have to come to terms with everything that entailed. She looked into herself, looked at the images of Buffy burning alive, and of Willow with her intestines stretched out across the width of a room, and she made herself acknowledge them. Yeah. Yeah, that's me. I've thought of doing this, lots of times.
Willow especially, had inspired a long list of possible scenarios, each more twisted than the last, but Buffy was right up there too. The desire that was mixed up with the hate made those even more painful to contemplate, but she didn't look away. I'm twisted; a vicious, sadistic bitch that gets off on making people hurt, especially if I can tell myself that they hurt me first. I thought up lots of ways to kill these people, and a couple of times I even came close to going and doing it.
She took a deep breath, trying to hold on even as that other part of her tried to pull her down inside itself and swallow her forever. I came so close to doing Willow, when I was there in Buffy's body. I could see the knife going in, I could feel it, taste it….
The image came again, the terror that filled the witch's face as she realized that her best friend Buffy had killed her, then the fading light in those green eyes as death claimed her. I could have killed them all, then. I wanted to, so much… but I told myself that they weren't worth the trouble. And I was right; they're not.
The darkness seemed to hesitate, as if unsure what she was doing. Into the endless, mazelike corridors of her own mind, Faith spoke. None of them are worth torturing; even Buffy wasn't the one I hated, though I thought she was. She fooled me, because she's my mirror; she's what I hate myself for not being. Sometimes I hated her because I thought she was keeping me from being as good as she was, as special as she was, but that was just another lie. All along, the one I've hated the most was myself.
Silence roared in her ears as she stared into the bitter void, a lack of sound so loud that it echoed endlessly. My mother ignored me, and all I could think of was that I didn't do enough to make her love me. She beat me, and all I could do was wonder what I'd done wrong. She sold me to her johns for a hit of heroin, and I told myself that it was because I was already dirty and disgusting. How can I blame Buffy for hating me, when I tried so hard to make it happen? I don't know what to do, if somebody treats me nice. I'm always wondering what their game is, what they're trying to pull. I see so much in myself that sickens me, so much stupidity and pathetic, empty spite, I can never believe that everyone else doesn't see it too.
Then when they finally give up and treat me like I wanted, the way I pushed them into treating me, I blame them for it.
Faintly, that other voice tried to retaliate.
--It's all their fault! They're the ones who made me like this! If they'd only tried harder to accept me when I showed up, if they'd been one bit less tied up in worshipping the almighty Buffy, then I never would have had to-
She cut herself off. Yeah, yeah; whatever. Sure, they're to blame too, but that's not reason enough to go all medieval on 'em. That's done, it's over. I'm moving on, and that means dealing with the real problem; which is me. I don't have to stay trapped in this tangle forever. I know what's wrong with me, now, and I can deal.
--Not that easy! You can't just turn it off!-
The other voice sounded desperate now, which was kind of funny since all of this was just her talking to herself. -Face it; this is all you are, all you know how to be!--
That line was getting old, and she was sick of hearing it. For the last time, she put it into words.No; that's all I was. I'm going to be more. I want to be, and I can make it happen.
"And I'm going to prove it right now."
Faith opened her eyes.
* * * * *
There was a muffled crack,
and the crystal cube in Nagasu's hand shattered, falling through his fingers in a hundred glittering fragments. Taryuu watched as the girl raised her head, took a deep breath, and then flowed smoothly to her feet. Those standing nearest recoiled, clutching at their weapons, but she didn't look up at them. Instead, she gazed down at Itai, whose wild eyes were now glassy with shock.
"I'm sorry." Through some trick of sound, the whisper carried to every ear in the room. "You're the last one I do like this; I promise." If he was still capable of speech, the man chose not to reply. Faith bowed her head for a moment, then raised her hand. The bladed end of the spear she held flashed downward, penetrating Itai's heart, and he slumped slightly as he died. Withdrawing the blade, the girl turned and stalked slowly across the floor, never looking up at those on the balcony.
Akamori turned on Nagasu, his expression thunderous.
"What now, sorcerer? Where is the leash you promised me, to bind the spirit warrior to my hand?"
The magician was staring in disbelief at his bloody hand; jagged splinters of crystal were embedded deeply in his flesh. Raising his eyes to meet his master's, the man spoke in a faint, trembling voice.
"M-my lord, there m-may be some slight diffic-culty in completing the spell as we had planned."
Akamori snarled, raising his hand to strike, but Faith's voice cut through the air, freezing him in place.
"Plan?" Looking down, Taryuu saw that she had reached the center of the floor again. Stooping, she cast aside the club end of the broken spear and picked up her fallen knife. The blade shimmered gold and scarlet, and for an instant the very air around her seemed to waver. Finally, the girl looked up. Her dark eyes were steady again, but with a wicked glint that was most unsettling to see. She smiled widely.
"Looks like your plan was total crap, guys." Cocking her head to one side she seemed to be listening to something only she could hear. "How about we try mine instead?"
The Clan lord shook his head sadly.
"Regretfully, I must decline." Taryuu raised his hand and made a gesture, and saw the figure at the railing off to his right move in response. Akamori looked truly disappointed at the way events had turned, but he watched as Dai raised one of her guns and took aim at the girl. "Goodbye, Faith."
The spirit warrior glanced at the gun sorceress, but only shrugged as the glow of magic began to gather around the mystic firearm.
"I wouldn't write me off quite yet, if I were you."
Despite himself, the young lord seemed intrigued.
"Oh, and why is that?"
Faith pursed her lips, raising her knife hand to her ear and using the tip of one finger to tuck her hair back.
"Because I think I hear something coming. Don't you?"
Even as she spoke the words, Taryuu became aware of a roaring sound, growing quickly louder. He looked towards the front entrance, the wide doors just visible from where he stood, beneath the overhang of the balcony on the far side of the room. Gunshots rang out, but only a few, and he cursed as he recalled seeing the guards slipping inside to witness the fight. Over on the balcony to his right, Dai was hesitating, a nimbus of intense emerald light swirling around the hand that held her gun. He opened his mouth to shout an order, to send more men outside to deal with whatever was happening, but it was too late. The double doors were suddenly struck, with an impact that shook the concrete balcony beneath his feet. The heavy wooden panels were hurled open, the rightmost one ripped completely away from its moorings and thrown halfway across the floor. The roaring was abruptly louder, recognizable now as a car engine, just as the object that had impacted the front of the building was now discernable as a car. It had apparently struck the doors in a sideways skid, else it might well have careened into the great room itself. Staring at the battered metal which now filled the doorway, Taryuu blessed the spirits for the poor driving skills of whoever was behind that wheel. Even now, some of the soldiers down on the floor were moving forward, weapons raised. He noted in passing that Faith didn't seem upset by the failure of the car to reach her. Strange, when obviously it had been an attempt to give her way out of the trap she was in…. If that was what it had been.
* * * * *