See Chapter One for Disclaimer She is, quite simply, the most capable fighter who has ever lived.
She proved it that night; despite the efforts of a certain person to cover up the results, she showed everyone with eyes to see just what the world could look forward to from that point on.
And she hasn't disappointed.
--Katherine Wagner; Freelance Military 'Advisor'
December 19, 2002
Like the old song said, Faith wasn't sure where she was going, but she sure knew where she'd been. Her newly expanded ability to visualize the battlefield let her keep track of every turning of the hallway, every room she encountered. Once she'd seen a particular place, she always knew where it was in relation to where she currently stood. The only problem was, she didn't know what lay ahead of her until she got there. The whole rear half of the building was a warren of twisting hallways and small rooms that had probably once been offices and meeting rooms, but were now everything from living quarters to workshops to storage areas. In widely isolated locations, the building's original emergency lighting gave off faint illumination, which gave her nightvision plenty of light to work with.
It was as she was bounding around another corner of the hallway that she nearly ran headlong into three soldiers coming the other way. Before they had time to blink, she'd put her knife through one's throat, driven her fist into the other's chest hard enough to shatter his sternum and collapse his lungs, and brought both legs up from the floor to lock her ankles around the third's neck, pulling him down to the floor with her and snapping his spine with a powerful twist as they landed. Rolling effortlessly to her feet, she glanced around. Okay, so my 'radar' doesn't always show me the bad guys until I've seen them first, either.
She supposed it would take awhile to get the hang of the new sense; or maybe it was just the bullet that had bounced off of her skull that was interfering with things, up there. Dismissing the problem for the moment, she contemplated her surroundings.
The corridor ran left and right here, and anything that delayed her pursuit even a few seconds would be a big help. Reaching down with one hand, she picked up the man with the broken neck and tossed him halfway down the hall to the right, then turned and sprinted down the one to her left. There were stretches where it was so near to total darkness that even her eyes could barely make out where she was going, but that was all to the good. In the back of her mind, she saw that the glowing points representing the gun-girl and the head goon had met up, and were coming after her, and that was not a situation designed to improve her mood. If she met the two of them at the same time, then she was probably going to die. And I can't die until I finish this. I don't them to say 'Oh, did you hear? Faith's finally dead, and she screwed up her last try at being more than a skanky ho, too.' I can just see Willow being all smug and superior about that; the bitch.
Her one working ear warned her this time, and she slowed as she neared a door that had light leaking around it. She was maybe two minutes ahead of the pursuit, so she had time to investigate. Easing the door open a few inches with her empty hand, she peered within. A half-dozen men and women were busily gearing up, pulling guns from racks along the walls, off of tables piled with them, even out of crates in the far corner. It was an armory, and from the looks of it you would think they were on their way to fight a division of Marines instead of one ex-Slayer. Rather than wait for them to finish up and come looking for her, Faith slipped inside the room and got things started a little earlier than they'd planned.
* * * * *
Taryuu had never seen Dai cowed before, but Akamori had done it with little more than a few quiet words and an intense look. The shame that radiated from the gun-sorceress was a palpable thing; hopefully it would serve to keep her aggression in check.
They had found her in the refectory, leaning weakly against a table and trying to regain her breath. The look on her face when she had been forced to admit her blunder in providing Faith a means of escape from the room had been something to behold. Now, she and Akamori were leading the way down one of the many corridors that lay in this section of the Citadel. They were forced to move slowly. The girl could be waiting in ambush around any corner, or be hiding within any room they passed. If she managed to get behind them, they might waste precious time searching while she fled down their back trail.
Taryuu wished for the hundredth time that his lord were not so eager to test himself against the spirit warrior. She had proven herself to be formidable, far beyond what he himself had expected, even after seeing her fight briefly. As they paused to survey a scattering of bodies in the hallway, he wondered how severe the Storm's losses would be before the night was over.
* * * * *
Faith wiped the blood from her knife on the shirt of the dead man before returning it to its sheath. Okay, that's six more here, that should be something like… fifty dead, total. Only two hundred to go.
That wasn't exactly an encouraging thought, so she turned her attention to the guns. There were lots and lots of them to look at, too. Pistols, rifles, the submachine guns that a lot of the Yakuza seemed to favor. She was kind of surprised that there were no grenades or anything, but there had to be a limit somewhere as to what you could tote around in the city, even if you were paying off the police department. Bearing in mind the number of bad guys she still had to deal with, Faith picked out two pistols, shoving one into the front of her pants, and the other into that handy spot at the small of her back. Not being quite as stupid as some people thought her to be, she made damned sure the safeties were on beforehand. An assault rifle would have been nice, but she didn't want to risk something that large getting tangled up on something if she had to do any radical moves. On the other hand, the firepower might just make the difference…. As a compromise, she decided on taking a submachine gun.
Knowing where the safety was and how to reload pretty much summed up her knowledge of guns, so she wasn't able to make an informed choice about which type to choose. There were several different kinds of the compact weapons laid out there, and the subtle differences between them completely escaped her. Falling back on one of her guiding principles, she shrugged and picked up the one that looked the coolest.
Larger than most of them but still much smaller than a rifle, the one she chose was all planes and angles, with a gleaming black finish that wouldn't have looked out of place on a European sports car. Instead of the standard short barrel, there was something kind of like a silencer, only it was as thick as her wrist, and half as long as the gun itself. The weapon was heavier than it looked, not that that was a problem for her. The weight was actually reassuring; the gun felt solid and well balanced in her hand, with the same sort of alien beauty as her knife… and the same promise of death. Admiring it, Faith couldn't help grinning for just a moment.Oh yeah. Something that looks this wicked just has to be kick-ass.
The clips in the case next to it were longer than the average kind, which was great since she was of the firm opinion that more was better, so far as ammo went. She slammed one of the magazines home, and it locked into place with a satisfying click. The weapon had a retractable stock built in, which she didn't bother with, and a shoulder sling, which she looped over her head. Since her left shoulder had a bullet hole in it, she settled the strap across her right one, so that the gun hung at her left side. She tried shoving a couple of extra magazines into the back pocket of her jeans, but they were too big to fit comfortably. Okay, they're not labeled; that would make too much sense. Still, they've gotta be, what? A hundred rounds each?
Granted, they were little bullets, but it didn't take a big one to kill most people. She could feel a group of the enemy getting close, including two dangerous ones, so she crouched and tucked a clip into the top of each of her boots, flexing her ankles to make certain they wouldn't give her a problem when she was moving. They fit fine, and seemed inclined to stay there until she needed them. Bouncing to her feet, she slipped out into the hallway. Faith felt uneasy about leaving all that firepower there for whoever came along, but she didn't have a way to burn or blow them up. She settled on closing the door behind her, then snapping off the knob, which would at least make it difficult to get into the room. Moving quickly down the corridor, knife in one hand and machine gun in the other, she went looking for targets.
* * * * *
"I find my patience wearing thin."
Akamori was looking at their latest discovery, a group of four dead men lying in a heap against the far wall of the small room. The flickering torchlight was their only means of seeing what lay before them; Faith had taken to smashing every working emergency light she found. The three leaders examined the fallen men. These, like the last seven they had found, had been killed by gunfire, though they had heard nothing. Taryuu felt a chill go through him, wondering how many more of his men lay dead in rooms like this one, killed by a girl who looked human, but most definitely was not. The clan leader and Dai led the way back out into the hall, moving faster as Akamori's impatience drove him forward. He was seething, frustrated by their failure to even catch a glimpse of Faith, much less bring her to battle. Taryuu felt much the same way. While she held them here, no one was leading the efforts to clear a path free of the building. Until the girl was dealt with, they could not risk turning their backs on her; she was simply too dangerous.
As if the thought had been a summons, a faint staccato thumping sounded from behind him, followed by harsh cries of surprise and pain. Whirling, he peered past the glare of the torch his lieutenant held, looking back at where the twenty men accompanying them had been filing down the hall. Half of them were writhing on the floor, bleeding from bullet wounds in their backs. For just an instant Taryuu saw a dim shape at the far end of the passageway, before it darted from view. "Gouka!"
He flinched away as a bolt of blazing light leapt past his head and down the length of the corridor. An explosion there sent fire boiling back for several meters in their direction before it faded away, leaving only the cries of the wounded. Taryuu turned a fierce glare upon Dai, but she was oblivious, staring past him as if he were not there. The young lord shouldered past them both, leaping over the fallen and drawing his sword as he approached the site of the fireball. The scorched walls and ceiling smoldered, but did not burn, for which the older man was grateful.
"She circled around us." Self-evident, yes, but Taryuu felt the need to hear a voice, any voice, that was not sobbing in pain and terror. "These halls all connect with each other; she could be anywhere."
Akamori had rounded the corner, and now stood staring down the passage they had traversed just moments earlier. With a bitter curse he slammed his Katanna back into its sheath.
"Come! We must press her. Sooner or later she will make a mistake."
Taryuu, crouching down beside a young man who was coughing bubbles of bloody froth with every breath, looked up at his lord.
"What of the wounded? They need someone to-"
He looked at his master in disbelief.
"We should at least leave a pair of men to guard them. If the spirit warrior should find them helpless-"
"No!" Akamori's face was flushed, his features distorted with rage. "These worthless incompetents have earned their fate! Now leave them and follow!"
He strode away, Dai close behind. Taryuu stood slowly, looking down at the man dying there at his feet. The eleven soldiers still on their feet waited for him to lead them. Without a word, he turned and headed after the others.
* * * * *
Wow! I know guns were never my favorite things, but this one might change my mind!
Faith jogged lightly down the hallway, using her eyes and her bad-guy radar to warn her of danger. Her left ear was starting to work again, faintly, but the oddly distorted sounds it brought her were actually more distracting than the silence had been.
She'd been roaming these passages for a couple of minutes now, and she'd accounted for another eight Yakuza. With no lights, they couldn't see her at all, and if they were carrying torches then it was almost worse for them, since a bright light near your face effectively blinded you to anything more than a few feet away. Pausing at an intersection, she considered the small constellation of lights glowing inside her mind, then turned right and raised the submachine gun. Thirty feet away, a pair of men with assault rifles came around the corner. They were trying to play it smart; moving slowly, creeping along without a light to give them away. She gave them credit for trying, but as soon as they were fully in view, she fired.
Unlike the other firearms Faith had experience with, this one was whisper quiet. In fact, the sound it made was very much like what she imagined a tiger would sound like, if he were purring right into your ear. The massive silencer not only absorbed sound, it also seemed to keep any muzzle flashes at her weapon's barrel from giving away her location in the dark. Short, controlled bursts hit each of the men, and they fell in twin sprays of blood. Faith turned and jogged away. Okay, so it's not fair and it's not nice. That's just the way it has to be.
Without warning, the world turned strange, and she careened into the side of the hall. A wave of dizziness washed over her, and she had to brace herself against the wall to keep from falling. Whoa. What's-?
Her vision blurred, and she closed her eyes. C'mon, Faith. Don't fall apart now.
She didn't have time; there were people just out of sight on every side who wanted her dead, but she had to take a few seconds to check things out.
Gathering herself, Faith went inside.
She was no doctor, but where her own body was concerned, Faith was an expert. She'd been hurt more times than she could count, been severely injured more times than she wanted to recall, and one of the things she'd learned while a Slayer was how to monitor and guide the healing process. With practice, it was possible to direct the body's resources, to speed up or slow down certain activities; lots of different things. What she did now was move past the barriers that her nervous system had thrown up between her mind and the pain of her many injuries. Those blocks were vital if she were to keep fighting, but sometimes they kept her from realizing just how serious a given wound might be, until her body gave out completely. As she attuned herself to the pulse and flow of the energies within herself, Faith got a good look at what was going on. Ouch.
It wasn't good, but she'd lived through worse. The blood loss was fairly bad, but it was under control, and not even close to what it would take to finish her. The various bruises, cuts, punctures, even the small canyon a bullet had carved through her shoulder, all of that was just an inconvenience. The thing she hadn't known about was the bruise forming where the bullet had bounced off of her skull. Not on the outside, but inside the bone, against her brain. Blood and fluid had leaked in there for at least a few seconds after the impact, and it was pressing on her brain, which wasn't exactly healthy. The swelling had already slowed to nearly nothing, but what was already there could give her problems if she didn't do something quickly. No big deal; I know how to heal from head wounds. Months of practice and everything.
It was the work of moments to set the process into motion; blood vessels altered permeability to absorb fluid and carry it away, loads of enzymes to dissolve the leaked blood itself, and a horde of little guys she didn't have a name for to start repairing the tissue damage. She didn't understand half of what she did, but she knew how to do it.
When she came back to herself, the yellow flickering glow of approaching torches were visible just around the corner in front of her. Moving silently, she drifted back, beyond the range of the light, and readied her gun. Seconds before her targets came into view, she heard something from behind her. A quick look showed more torches at the far end of the corridor where she stood. Five or six of the enemy were coming at her from that direction; that made it likely that at least a couple would live long enough to shoot back at her, were she to open up on them now. With a growl of frustration, she found a door in the wall beside her and slipped through, closing it behind her.
Taking a close look at the little lights inside her mind, she saw that there were a lot more of them in her general area now. Whoever was in charge seemed to have gotten a little organized; there was a pattern forming, with groups of soldiers moving through the halls in close contact with each other. If she tried taking a group out, odds were that there would be two or three others close enough to meet up with her before she got clear. Nice try; but still not a problem.
Even though she'd never had to operate on this kind of scale before, it was still the kind of thing she knew how to do. The room she was in was dark; absolutely, totally dark, and even her eyes needed some tiny glimmer of light in order to work. Again, not a problem. Pulling her knife free of its sheath, she willed it to glow. A faint scarlet and gold shimmer danced up and down the length of the blade, and she glanced around the room. It was half-full of random, useless junk, and there was no other exit. Outside in the hall, two groups of bad guys were converging.
Moving to the far wall, Faith ran her hand along the surface. Unlike the main walls of the building, these were ordinary materials. Not concrete, just the same kind of thing you found in most houses or office buildings. She could have kicked a hole through in seconds, but that would have been noisy. Sharp.
Compared to the shield, this function barely used any of the weapon's stored energy at all. With quick, sure strokes, she used the blade to shear through the wall, outlining a square three feet on a side. Once that was done, she let the enhanced sharpness fade, drove the blade into the center of the square, and pushed. The panel she'd cut popped out neatly into the next room, and she stepped through after it. Once on the other side, she pulled the knife free, turned the panel around, and pushed it back into place. The outline would still be visible, but in torchlight it might pass unnoticed. She went to the new room's door and stepped out into an empty hallway. Time for the next part.
* * * * *