See Chapter One for Disclaimer
It was beyond belief, what happened to the team.
We'd come armed for supernatural bear; our little group's strike team, dispatched to Sunnydale to deal with some rogue sorcerer that Caitlin had seen in one of her visions. The six of us, all ex-military and toting the best hi-tech weaponry we could find, buy or steal… and it didn't make any difference.
It was a girl, just one girl, but she hit us while we were still setting up our gear in the hotel. She came through the door in an explosion of glass, and then started cutting through us like a buzzsaw. I've fought demons before, and zombies, and vampires. Whatever she is, it's something worse than all three put together. I saw her kick Eric's head so hard that his neck snapped, and then she put her hand right through Andrew's chest. The rest of us were firing by then, with whatever we could get our hands on. That kind of thing is nearly suicidal in close quarters like that, and I think either Julian or myself hit Lauri by mistake. By then Dennis was dead too, his neck chopped completely through with some kind of short sword she was carrying. At that point the two of us who were left were out the door and running like hell for the van, knowing that it wasn't a question of winning this fight any longer, but of surviving it. Julian burned through a whole clip of ammunition to keep her away while I got it started, and then he jumped in.
I…. I suppose she must have taken an assault rifles from one of our fallen. That's never happened before; most of the things we fight aren't smart enough to use any of our weapons against us. She knew how to point and shoot, though. The first spray of bullets just hit metal, but the second burst tore through the passenger side door and shredded poor Julian into bloody meat just as I got the van out of the parking lot and onto the road.
All that was about five minutes ago. It's taken this long for my hands to steady enough to hold the recorder. I wish I had my cell-phone, but that's back in the hotel room, and there's no way I'm going back after it. I'm making this record while the memory of it is still fresh in my mind. Hopefully there will be something here to help whoever goes back to deal with her. If we do try again, there'll have to be a LOT of us. I'm now the only person left with military experience, and that didn't do much good anyway. Even if we bring in every other demon hunter we know, I don't know if there are enough of us all together to handle her.
God! Just remembering how FAST she moved… She wasn't human, no matter what she looked like. Whoever she is, she must be working with the sorcerer, though how she found us before we had even begun looking for-
--Wait a second. There's something coming up behind me now, just one headlight. It looks like a motorcycle, and it's really flying.
I know I'm not the psychic in our little group, but I have a bad feeling about this.
--A message on a micro tape-recorder
Found inside a van abandoned by the roadside ten miles outside Sunnydale
May 11, 1999
Taryuu hurried down the stairwell, risking a fall by taking the steps three at a time. He'd seen the girl somehow survive Dai's most powerful attack; that alone was enough to concern him. Although the odds remained overwhelmingly in the Storm's favor, he was concerned by what had transpired. The girl's magic, whatever it was, seemed to allow her to ignore bullets. Reduced to traditional melee weapons, a great many of his best soldiers might well die before they succeeded in dragging Faith down. He needed to organize a concerted attack against her, while also sending a sufficient force out to deal with whoever had launched that car bomb attack. Whoever it was must be working with the girl, and they must even now be waiting to help her escape.
At the bottom of the stairwell, he shoved through the door and out into the main hall. Directly in front of him, roughly fifty feet away, a large knot of struggling figures marked the place where the girl fought against his people. He couldn't see her from here; the smoke made the flickering light from the flames even more deceptive to the eye. I may not have to concern myself with her after all. A mob attack might succeed in burying her with a sheer weight of numbers.
Turning, he caught sight of one of his senior operatives.
"Jouki!" The man immediately hastened over, cradling a severely burned arm he must have suffered when the car exploded. "Jouki, I want you to come with me. We will take thirty men out through east door, and kill any locals who are still nearby." He gestured to where the shifting wall of figures gave testament that Faith had not yet fallen. "And find someone to take charge, there. If she survives that brawl, then I want ten men with rifles ready to try again."
The man had been waiting with ill-disguised impatience as Taryuu spoke, and now he launched into rapid-fire Japanese.
"Lord Taryuu, I've already tried to send a group outside to deal with them, but the doors are blocked!"
The older man scowled at his subordinate.
"Then use the south doors, fool!"
Jouki tried to gesture with his injured arm, then winced in pain.
"We tried, but so far, every one has also been sealed shut somehow!" His eyes wide with burgeoning panic, the man grabbed at Taryuu with his good hand. "We are trapped in here, to be burned alive!"
The underboss was taken aback for a moment. Trapped? No, it couldn't be. There were six separate exits besides the main doors; for the local rabble to have orchestrated an operation that managed to somehow jam all of them closed, while at the same time….
"The car." He spoke so softly that he barely heard the words himself, but that wasn't important. The car bomb, which he had first thought was intended as a rescue for the girl, and later believed to be an attempt to kill everyone gathered in the great hall had actually been neither. It had been meant to do exactly what it had done; render the main entrance impassable. That done, the assembled might of the Clan was trapped inside the building, at least temporarily. Oh, they could always leap from the rooftop, but that drop would result in serious injury, if not death, for anyone who dared it. He spared a moment to admire whoever had planned this, not that it would avail them of victory. Realizing that Jouki was on the brink of hysteria, he shook his head firmly.
"No, we will not burn. Look!" He pointed at the front of the hall, where the flames were still billowing upwards furiously, licking over and around the balcony at that end of the room. "See? Concrete and steel do not burn. As soon as that car burns itself out, we will be able to climb over it, and get outside to deal with the dogs who dared this." First, though, there was the matter of the spirit warrior to deal with. If he could not yet reach those outside, she at least was where he could get at her. "Jouki; come with me."
* * * * *
This was as down and dirty as it got. Faith was struggling with five or six people at once, and they were literally climbing over her, trying to bear her to the ground. She didn't have room to punch or kick, and she certainly couldn't dodge. It was down to elbows and knees, jabbing at eyes with stiffened fingers, and trying to outwrestle a frenzied mob. An ugly man with deep pockmarks scarring his face was suddenly right in front of her, pushed there by some random current of the shifting tangle of bodies. With a snarl, he buried his fist into her midriff, which didn't accomplish much of anything at all. The muscles that banded her waist were usually invisible, but they were as dense and resilient as a truck tire. Since her arms were each being grappled by three people, there wasn't much she could do to retaliate. He was nearly as hampered by the crush, but still managed to draw back his fist again, and drive it into her face.
That hurt. Showing her teeth in a snarl of her own, Faith slammed her forehead into his face in a vicious head butt. She felt his nose flatten under the first blow, but she didn't stop to look. Once, twice, three times more she hit him, and she felt bone crunch before the press of bodies shifted and allowed him to fall.
That momentary bit of space let her bring her leg up, and she thrust her foot into the nearest target, forcing them back, and also driving her and the human leeches clinging to her back a couple of steps. It didn't work; new opponents dove at her, wrapping themselves around her legs and holding on for all they were worth. It's like wrestling a gang of five-year-olds; provided they were trying to kill you.
They were trying pretty hard, too. Something narrow and sharp was driven deep into her upper back, just to the right of her spine. She grunted, trying to torque her body around, trying to snap her head back in a reverse head butt… but she couldn't reach them. Tearing fingers found the clotted wound along her ribs, and she bit off a scream as a sudden jolt of agony registered there. Fresh blood streamed down her side, and someone was trying to force open her right hand; the hand that held her knife. The knife. Maybe-
Better to try anything, than to try nothing. Shield.
The shimmering gold barrier materialized, which proved that being overcome a couple of minutes earlier by that gun-blast hadn't damaged the weapon's magic. The shield was there… but it didn't do anything to help her. The glowing panes of light simply shaped themselves around her attackers, not hindering their movements in the least, and not forcing them away as she had hoped. Damn it. Living stuff can pass through; and I guess so can people's clothes and whatever. Just great.
She dropped the shield to conserve the blade's energies, and concentrated on trying to fight her way free. Whoever was behind her must have been distracted by the momentary appearance of the barrier, but now they drove their ice pick into her again; this time it grated on her right shoulder blade. She let out a strangled cry of fury, putting everything she had into freeing her right arm. The clutching hands fought to hold her; one benefit of her tight clothing was that it gave her foes very little loose cloth to grip. All the slippery blood helps too.
She thought grimly. Too bad so much of it's mine.
She managed to twist halfway around, to gain a little slack with which to move her arm-and someone pushed the muzzle of an automatic assault rifle into her chest.
Time seemed to slow to a crawl. The barrel was pressed into the upper curve of her left breast, but what she saw out of the corner of her eye showed that the woman holding it didn't have a good angle. The weapon wasn't square-on to Faith's body, it was lined up pointing through the side of her chest, not through her center of mass. Not that it'll help my looks any, if she fires that; I'll be all unbalanced with only my right one still attached. And there's the whole thing of her maybe blowing my heart out of my side to deal with.
Faith was already moving, doing the only thing she could with her body pinned like it was. Instead of trying to shift the people holding her, or pull away from them, she curled in on herself. Using every bit of strength she had, she drew herself inwards, into a sort of fetal position. The leverage situation was much better for her here, where she was using a contractile movement instead of an extending one, and it wasn't something her captors had been expecting, either. She dragged the men holding her arms in a step, even as both she and they dropped down as she drew her knees up and into her chest. In just an instant, her body was pulled down, forward, and to the right, as she took in the slack she'd gained on that side. The rifle muzzle slipped upwards as she went low, scraping the skin over her collar bone even as the woman holding it pulled the trigger, and a long burst erupted into the densely-packed group beyond Faith.
She didn't get off unscathed, though. The first bullet carved a deep groove through the muscle of her shoulder, and she went suddenly deaf on that side, a thin trickle of blood oozing from her hypersensitive ear. The end of the barrel had been right beside her head, so close that she smelled singed hair as she gathered herself. The mob hesitated for just a second as the screams of the wounded and the angry shouts of the rest echoed through the room. In that moment, Faith erupted.
Straightening her legs in an explosive movement, she succeeded in hurling the men clinging to them off of and away from her. Flexing her body in what most would consider an impossible fashion, she brought her left leg up and over, landing a crushing kick to the skull of a man holding her right arm. He fell away, leaving only his two startled and shaken comrades to control that limb.
Two men were not enough to hold that arm back. Sharp.
The knife thrummed eagerly as she brought it up through the chest of the larger man, shearing through his ribcage as it were made of paper. The last man on that arm screamed, released her, and lunged backwards, trying to escape. She let him, instead rolling to her left, coming up on her knees even as she lashed out at the soldiers still holding her arm on that side. Their flesh parted with ghastly ease, spraying her with bright blood, and suddenly she was free. She came to her feet, whirling as she did so because of something more sensed than seen or heard. Her left hand caught the fore stock of the assault rifle even as the woman took aim again, and with a wrench Faith took it away from her. An open area had opened up between her and the nearest of her opponents, and several of them were clawing for their pistols, or were grabbing for the sub machineguns that were dangling from their shoulder slings. She moved faster than they, flipping the rifle and catching it again in an instant, with the business end now pointed at them. Those in front of her barely had time to register the movement before she pulled the trigger back and held it there.
It takes a strong man to hold an automatic weapon steady when it is firing. The recoil is more powerful than someone who has never used one would believe, and it tends to pull the weapon up and off target almost from the very first round. Even a strong man has trouble hitting anything more than a few yards away, especially when holding the weapon one-handed, but Faith had two tremendous advantages. Every single person in the building was an enemy, so it didn't matter who she hit, so long as she hit someone; and she was far stronger than any man.
As a result, when she swept the weapon in an arc from right to left, she kept the point of aim exactly where she wanted it, which was across the stomachs of the men standing between her and some running room. The clip ran dry at the end of the arc, so she hurled the rifle at the nearest uninjured man and leapt forward.
Despite everything, they still didn't know enough to stay away from here. She supposed it must be some kind of mob mentality, which refuses to see one injured and outnumbered foe as anything but prey. Whatever it was, it made the handful of Yakuza between her and her destination stand their ground and try to stop her. She whirled into them, leading with a flying spin kick that drove a tall, heavily muscled man back as if he'd been struck by a car. Something like a cop's nightstick came at her skull in an overhand arc, and she blocked with her forearm, the superhuman toughness of her muscle and bone absorbing the shock without giving way. It hurt, though, and she hissed at the pain as she stepped up into her attacker. Her fist came up into his belly hard enough to momentarily lift him off his feet. When he folded forward, she snapped an elbow up under his chin, straightening him back up just in time for her to smash the steel hilt of her knife across first one side of his face, then backhand across it again. The old rage was still there, alive and well, and she could feel the temptation to hurt him; not just kill him, but torture him for the way she felt inside, the way they'd all made her feel, her entire life…. No, never again.
He was barely conscious, the skin and flesh of his face torn and bleeding, both cheekbones shattered and exposed in a gruesome mask of blood. She felt a tickle inside her head, and her left hand snapped out and wrenched a pistol from the hand of a man who had been about to shove it into her back, but she never looked away from the one in front of her. None of it was your fault. The only thing you've done wrong was here, in this city. For that you die, but not like that.
A flash of magically enhanced steel, and he fell, his throat cut. Faith breathed deeply, steadily, and although the fury was still pulsing within her, it didn't rule her, didn't twist her to its own needs.
That was a victory, as important as any she'd ever had, and a constriction around her heart that she hadn't even been aware of suddenly eased. Tucking the pistol into her jeans at the small of her back, Faith turned to deal with her next foe, firing a quick combination of punches that left him reeling, and a plunge of her knife finished it. Despite her wounds, her movements grew more assured, more fluid, and she kicked, blocked and punched her way free of the last entanglements. Ripping a sub machinegun away from a final adversary, she sprinted forward, crossing the open space in a pair of heartbeats and darting into the thick shadows under the room's left-hand balcony. She'd seen when she first entered that there were large passages leading to open areas on either side of the room. Now she ducked into the nearer, hoping that it would give her the opportunity to start using some hit and run tactics on her opponents. A glance behind her showed that despite the deaths she and the explosion had caused, there were still well over a hundred of the enemy on the main floor, alert and ready to fight. No way did I take out that many. Half of 'em are just scattered now, looking for someone to tell them what to do, or trying to find a way out of here.
Her special sense seemed to agree; she could feel scores of the soldiers gathering at several locations at the edge of her awareness; probably the doors Scott and his crew had blocked. Given time, the Yakuza would batter those doors open; she didn't have time to sit and wait them out, she had to be the hunter, not the hunted.
At the moment, though, she was content to stay alive for another few seconds. A wave of men rushed through the broad passage in pursuit of her, only to slow when they discovered that the light from the fire at the main entrance didn't reach here. Their merely human eyes were useless in the darkness, and they hesitated.
Faith didn't. Having been given a moment to decipher the workings of the weapon's safety, she thumbed it off and took aim. The roar of the weapon firing melded with the shrieks of the dying, and even as the first of them fell, the remainder were shouldering backwards into their fellows, trying to retreat back into the main chamber. A few shots came back her way, but they were fired blind; none of them could see her standing there just ten yards away. Before the clip was emptied, she had accounted for another eleven dead, and several more who wanted nothing more to do with her. Dropping the now useless gun to the floor, she looked around. Her nightvision showed her a room only slightly smaller than the one out there, though the ceiling was much lower. Large tables lined this end of the room, with enough chairs to seat most of the crowd that had gathered tonight. Her nose picked up the scents of old cooking; this seemed to be either a cafeteria or a meeting room; possibly both. She headed towards the far end, looking for some way to get around the soldiers who would be waiting outside that passageway.
* * * * *