See Chapter One for Disclaimer The Council has met in full session; the first time in nearly five years that I've been able to pry them all away from their various hobbies and idle pursuits long enough to form a quorum.
Of course, terror has a way of gaining the attention of even the dullest individual.
Faith has gone rogue.
I'd known that she was not what we needed in a Slayer, just as Summers is not what we need, but this….
This is disaster on a scale we have seldom faced. Not for nearly three hundred years has a Slayer slipped our leash, not just to seek some harmless self-gratification, but to actively aid the very evil which she is meant to battle.
The report from Giles has my colleagues in a panic. Most are all but pissing themselves with the thought that the girl might somehow make her way here and kill them all as they lay cowering under their beds. I somehow doubt that such a thing has even crossed her mind.
No, she has taken up with the sorcerer according to Giles, and is working to aid him with whatever vileness he is planning. I have instructed Wyndam-Price to remain in Sunnydale with the Summers girl; perhaps he can yet manage to undo this latest blunder. None of our other Watcher candidates is willing to approach within a thousand miles of this crazed girl, and I think it would be unwise at this point to send our team of 'troubleshooters' to deal with the problem.
Let Buffy and Faith have their little war, so long as it is far away from here. The Council's strength is its patience. Long after these two Slayers are gone, we will still be here.
Lord William Robert Hayden
Earl of Stapleford
First Seat of the Council
March 19, 1999
Taryuu shoved his way forward through the soldiers, his very presence serving to calm many of them, who had been in a near frenzy of hate and bloodlust just moments before. He could not help but see that there was something else there, in many of the eyes that were turned to him; fear.
"Stand firm; she is only one, despite her power. If you face her together, and not as a crowd of clumsy, screaming fools, then you will prevail!"
No one dared contradict him, but a general air of uneasiness hung over them. Looking past them at the dimness of the passage, and the motionless shapes of those that had fallen there, he found it difficult to blame them. She had already killed at least twenty of his people, and that was in addition to those who had been felled by the explosion. Scattered individuals lay on the stone floor, groaning in pain from wounds that might or might not be fatal. The acrid smoke made breathing a chore and caused eyes and sinuses to sting. None of this was designed to inspire men to rally and fight, especially against an apparently unkillable foe.
"Listen to me. She has run away from you for a reason. She is not invincible; she has limits." Crouching, he touched his fingers to the floor, then raised them for the men to see. "Blood. She can bleed." He had no idea whose blood actually stained his fingertips, but that was not important. It was important to make them think, to make them feel confident in their strength. "She hides in the darkness, but there is no way out of that room, so long as the exits to outside are blocked. Now, we will deal with her." Pointing to several of the men in turn, he began giving orders. "You, you; go search for lights. If you cannot find flashlights, then make torches. If we can see her, we can kill her." The men hurried away, moving with a purpose again. Taryuu looked back at the others gathered there. Roughly forty men, plus a handful of hard-faced women. The majority of those trapped within the building were still running about in the other regions of the structure, searching for a way outside. He would have to gather them together eventually, but for now these were enough to deal with the immediate danger. "Now then. I want those with automatic weapons to form a line here. Once Faith discovers that she is trapped, she may try to break past us. You will not allow her to do so." As the most heavily armed soldiers moved forward, he addressed the rest. "If she reaches you, it would be unwise to use firearms. You've already seen that it is more likely that you will kill each other, than a foe who is among you." He glared at them, trying to impress upon them the importance of obeying him in this matter. "Use your melee weapons. The press of your numbers has already made her flee from you once; it will do so again. If anyone uses a gun without my express-"
"Does that include me, lord Taryuu?"
The man turned, to find Dai standing at his elbow. The young woman's face was smudged with soot, but she seemed otherwise unharmed. Her green eyes glittering, she still managed to sound respectful as she spoke.
"These here-" Her gesture took in those with guns who were covering the darkened passageway, as well as those gathered around listening. "-are unnecessary. I will deal with the girl."
Taryuu shook his head firmly.
"No. She has already shown that she can withstand your magic; we will use numbers to-"
The woman cut him off; anger overcoming her habitual calm.
"She did not withstand my magic! Her defense was destroyed when my bolt struck it!"
He regarded her intently.
"Yet the bolt was stopped. I will not have you enter there alone; wait until we find light, and then I will accompany you, along with twenty or so of my men."
She tossed her long hair impatiently.
"You-" Catching herself, she started again. "They would only be in my way, my lord. I will kill her." Turning away, she started for the passage. Her bejeweled pistols found their way into her hands as she moved forward.
"Stop! I order you to remain here!"
She never even looked back.
"I am sworn to lord Akamori, not to you. It is for him that I do this."
Taryuu swore under his breath. Rather say, for your own wounded pride. Stupid girl!
Dai was powerful, perhaps the single most powerful combatant the Storm could boast, but she was vulnerable, too. As he watched her vanish into the darkness, he prayed that her confidence was not misplaced.
"Where are those torches?!"
* * * * *
There was no way out. Faith had been all the way around the room, and aside from a couple of doors that led outside (and were now blocked by crashed cars), there was no other exit from the room. Some air vents along the ceiling were too small for her to fit through, and the walls were concrete. It was looking like she would have to charge the men waiting for her beyond the passageway and hope for the best. True, she could have the shield up, which should keep her from getting riddled with bullets, but she'd be back in the same situation; trying to fight fifty or more of them at once. Taking a quick inventory of the wounds she'd taken the last time, she didn't feel eager to try that again. "Bank in Tijuana, been joking you, just kidding, good buddy. Must see you clearly loco joshin' I hear you."
She whirled, but there was no one there. That voice, or rather several voices speaking at once, had first come to her when she entered through the front doors. More nonsense, though there was an unmistakable sense of meaning behind them. She put a hand to her head, desperately hoping that nothing else strange decided to invade her mind tonight. If it did, her poor brain would likely just give up and ooze out through her ears.
Predictably, it was then that she grew aware of something happening with her new sense. She concentrated, bringing it into clearer focus, and watched as one of the more threatening presences in the back of her mind grew nearer. She turned and looked across the room, and saw a shimmering orange light filling the passage out into the main chamber. A woman came into view, moving confidently, carrying a glowing object in one hand. Faith narrowed her eyes as her nightvision compensated for the brighter illumination. It was the girl with the magic guns; one of which was glowing like a lantern. She glanced around, her face remaining expressionless as she found Faith.
"Here you are; cowering like a trapped dog."
Her voice sounded strange; Faith's left ear still wasn't working after having the gun go off right next to it earlier. She gave an elaborate shrug.
"You're kind of cute. It's too bad you're going to die."
A split-second later, she had the pistol pulled from where it had been nestled at the small of her back, and was firing. Faith squeezed off three quick rounds, then paused to gauge their effect. She knew she wasn't the world's greatest marksman; she had never bothered to learn much more than which end to aim at the other person. Despite that, there was no way that she had missed a stationary target standing less than fifty feet away. Yet the Asian girl just stood there, a faint smile tugging at the corners of her lips.
Leaving the orange-glowing gun held up at shoulder height, she raised her second pistol. Vivid ropes of scarlet light materialized from empty air, snaking into the weapon and coalescing into a sphere around it. Faith had little in the way of cover; all there was at this end of the room were portable tables and a couple of hundred chairs, none of which were likely to stop serious magic. Raising her knife, she concentrated. Shield.
As per the image in her mind, only one of the twelve panes appeared, floating directly between her and the other woman. Despite taking the lives of several soldiers out on the floor, the knife was a long way from being fully charged. Using just one shield-section would conserve energy, and as long as the gun-girl didn't shift aim and go for Faith's feet, it would be enough.
The blazing pistol lowered until it was pointed directly at her chest, and then it fired. The vermilion bolt struck the golden barrier, and both vanished in a blinding flash of sparks. Again, the shock of it was transmitted through the hand holding the knife, all the way up into her shoulder. Ignoring the bone-deep ache, Faith grinned.
"Looks like a stalemate, huh?"
The pretty Asian girl smiled back.
"I think not."
The gun gathered magic again, and Faith concentrated on re-establishing the shield. It was hard; after being blown down it seemed to need a few seconds to form again. She managed it though, just barely in time. Another brilliant bolt leapt between them, was intercepted by the shield, and both were annihilated. Faith blinked away the afterimages left by the flash-and found herself lying on her back, staring up at a ceiling that seemed to be spinning slowly counterclockwise. Pain hammered relentlessly at her skull, and she raised her hand to probe her scalp. Her fingers encountered hair matted with warm blood, and a spot where the flesh was torn in a narrow furrow several inches long. Realizing she'd lost at least a couple of seconds somewhere along the line, she lunged to her feet. It wasn't hard to figure out what had happened. The other girl had simply fired the gun again, with no magical effects, as soon as Faith's shield had been destroyed. Fortunately, she'd been arrogant enough to try for a headshot, despite being partly blinded by the lightshow. The bullet had struck Faith's skull glancingly enough that it deflected off of the bone rather than punching through and into her brain. Not that I'm using my brain for much.
She was so disgusted with herself that it was tempting to find where she'd dropped her own pistol and use it on herself. What was I thinking, just standing there?
The gun-girl had been moving forward, thinking to finish off her fallen foe. When Faith stood up, there was an instant where surprise froze her opponent in place. She was too far away to reach before another couple of bullets were sent on their way, so Faith crouched down, grabbed the edge of the table in front of her, and heaved it up and forwards as hard as she could. The object was eight feet long and four wide, and weighed over a hundred pounds, but that didn't keep her from hurling it the width of the room at her foe. It arced across the intervening space, spinning on its long axis at an impressive rate, and the Asian girl's eyes went wide. She threw herself aside, crashing awkwardly to the floor.
Faith didn't wait to see the results; she grabbed up the knife and gun she'd dropped and sprinted down the length of the room. Blood from her torn scalp was running down the side of her face, threatening to drip into her right eye, and her head was pounding unbearably. She tried to ignore it until her body got around to damping the pain, but it wasn't easy. The distraction nearly made her miss the warning twinge; she dove, and a bright lance of energy cut through the space she'd occupied an instant before. Rolling to her feet, she put away the useless pistol and grabbed a chair. Whirling, she slung it sidearm back towards her adversary. It missed, and the bullet that came back in reply passed so close to her face that her skin prickled. Even worse, the brightest presence registering on her internal radar was heading her way. Somewhere out in the main hall, the boss man was approaching the passageway. I may be in trouble.
The back end of the room was a crude kitchen set-up, with only a blocked door to the outside offering a chance of escape. Given time, she could probably cut a hole through it with her knife, but she doubted she had that kind of time. A green glow cast her shadow on the wall to her left, and she turned to face the source of the light.
The gun-chick had one of her weapons leveled, an emerald-hued aura crackling around it.
"This time, you finally die." Faith pulled out her own pistol, giving her foe an appraising look. All she got for her trouble was a derisive laugh. "Idiot girl. Guns cannot harm me."
It was Faith's turn to chuckle.
"Actually, it's bullets
that can't touch you. This isn't a bullet; it's a gun."
She turned away, and the turn became a wind-up spin as she came around and brought her arm forward with blurring speed, throwing the weapon with all her might and letting the follow-through carry her into a dive down and to one side. The heavy pistol flew straight and true, striking the girl in her stomach and driving her backwards, doubling her over with a gasp of pain. As she staggered, the gun in her hand discharged, and the energy seething around the weapon lanced out to strike the wall just over Faith's head. There was a flash, then a momentary displacement of air that made Faith's good ear pop, and she found herself looking up at an irregularly-shaped hole where a few seconds before a solid mass of concrete had stood. There was no debris, just a smooth-sided gap big enough to drive a motorcycle through. The bolt had completely disintegrated the matter that had filled that hole. A quick glance showed Faith that her adversary was on the floor but stirring, and that other presence was about to enter the room, so she didn't waste any time. Leaping through the newly formed opening, she darted down the dark, narrow hallway and around the nearest corner.
* * * * *
Taryuu strained his ears, trying to determine what was happening inside the refectory. He was sure he had heard gunshots, though it was difficult to hear over the shouts coming from the main hall behind him. Out there, some individuals were attempting to use a pair of old fire extinguishers they had discovered to put out the burning car blocking the main entrance. That was a hopeless task, he knew. The car would continue to burn until all the gasoline it had contained was gone; hopefully just a few more minutes. There were also sounds of sporadic gunfire coming from up on the second level. Many of the small rooms up there had windows overlooking the buildings environs, and rather than stand around helplessly, some of his soldiers had elected to take positions there in an effort to kill any enemy they saw. Taryuu had mixed feelings about all this. On the one hand, he should applaud their initiative; on the other, it would have been much better if they had simply remained concentrated in the hall and waited for him to give them their orders. Spread out as they were, it would take time to gather them again, especially in the darkness and confusion.
A bright green flash momentarily painted the walls of the passageway leading into the eating area where Dai had gone to confront Faith. The men standing there with their weapons ready stirred uneasily, but there was no further sign of what was happening inside. Taryuu turned and shouted to where several men were searching inside the offices that filled the rear of the first level.
"Where are those torches?!"
He caught sight of several men emerging from the deep shadows beneath the balcony, and he opened his mouth to demand they go help the others search, when he realized who the person in front was. Instead of shouting, he ran his hand through his short hair and took a deep breath that nearly set him coughing. Akamori and his two bodyguards came to a halt before him. The clan lord took a moment to survey the area of the floor covered by the dead and dying before he spoke.
"Where is she?"
He didn't sound especially angry, but he did sound determined, and Taryuu hesitated before answering.
"Inside there. We are unable to see in the darkness, though it seems to bother her little enough. Dai has gone in after her; against my orders."
His master merely nodded. Three of the soldiers ran up behind them, carrying metal legs torn from office chairs, bound about at one end with rags. Even over the acrid smoke, the sharp scent of sake wafted from the dripping rags, and Taryuu nodded in approval. When the torches were lit, Akamori gestured sharply.
"Bring half your men and follow me."
The young man rested one hand on the hilt of his Katanna, and strode forward. With a scowl of displeasure for the unneeded risk, Taryuu did as he was told. Cautiously, they moved forward into the room.
* * * * *