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Virtue of a Warrior

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Summary: Faith faces her greatest test; and she faces it alone. No Buffy to love/hate, no Mayor to take care of her, no vampires to slay. In a city awash with blood, Faith must finally face her greatest enemy: herself

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
BtVS/AtS Non-Crossover > Dark > Faith-Centered(Current Donor)DreamSmithFR1856235,317305733,45528 Sep 0725 Oct 07Yes

Chapter Forty-Five

See Chapter One for Disclaimer



Though she gathers the mightiest tools of magic, the most cunning devices which man can forge, the Dark Child shall yet be their greatest weapon.
The swiftest spear, the sharpest blade, are nothing without the warrior to wield them.
-She- is that which shall be feared, not that which she holds in her hand.
The Slayer is the most ancient and powerful artifact of war in the human world, but the Warrior shall be that sword broken and then reforged, stronger and more bright-shining than before.
Her glory will light the way through the dark days which will follow her coming.

--From 'The book of the Apoch'



As far as Scott could tell, things seemed to be going according to plan. The two guards who had been outside when the doors were blocked had been taken down by one of his people, and now he had them spread out and under cover, watching the building for anyone trying to escape. There were surprisingly few cases of anyone making it out of there; the same design features that made it an excellent fortress also made it a very effective trap, just as he and Faith had hoped. Some of the Yakuza were shooting out through windows, but it wasn't very accurate, and his people didn't have to shoot back, they only had to make sure no one somehow managed to climb down from the roof, or one of the wider, upper-floor windows and get away. If they could keep them inside long enough, Faith would take care of the killing.

From the sound of things, she was doing a fair job of it. An incredible amount of gunfire was audible from inside the building, along with occasional screams, both of fury and of terror. He tried to imagine what it must be like, inside that dark, violent place, but he doubted that he could even come close to the reality.

Steven, one of the people he had covering the western side of the structure suddenly shouted, and Scott got up from where he had been crouched and ran in that direction, staying as low as he could. He arrived in time to lend his fire to the other man as he tried to discourage a small mob from squeezing out through a door they had forced partly open. It was a massacre, shooting the Yaks as they struggled to get through the narrow gap. After the sixth or seventh man died, and several others were pulled back inside, screaming in pain from their wounds, they saw no one else willing to make the attempt.

* * * * *

Faith had found her way out of the maze of hallways, emerging into a huge room that seemed to mirror the cafeteria area on the opposite side of the building. This space seemed to be set aside for something other than soldier training, and given the mystic symbols drawn on the floors and the heavy incense hanging in the air, it wasn't hard to guess what that purpose might be. In fact, there were two men up to something even now. They faced each other across an intricate diagram painted on the floor, chanting at a gathering of glowing lights that hovered above it. They hadn't seen her yet; the various bookshelves, glass cases and piles of dried and preserved human arms provided good cover, especially in the dimness. Only a ring of candles, and the light of whatever it was that they were conjuring, provided any illumination for the expansive room.

"Back in Cairo, been psycho, the key then, is safari. Must Tai Bo any Buddha coming at you."

That wasn't from the two men; it was the chorus of voices that had been whispering straight into her mind ever since she first entered the building, and she growled in irritation.

Shut up! I can't be crazy right now, there's still things to do.

She had been crazy at least once, but she'd never heard voices before. Stress, she supposed, not surprising with everything happening. Resolving to just ignore it, she moved closer to where the summoning was taking place. Crouching behind a stuffed and mounted demon-dog of some kind (and she poked it with the tip of her knife, just to make sure it wasn't still alive, somehow), she took a moment to rest as she watched the two men. All magical paraphernalia looked the same to her, but seeing those patterns incised on the floor instantly sent her mind back to early that morning, when she'd burst into a musty hotel room, only to find Kelly lying bloody and semi-conscious on the floor, surrounded by mystical glyphs. The anger she felt over that had subsided to glowing embers inside her, pushed back by her need to stay true to herself, to maintain control over her actions. It surged upwards now, but it wasn't the twisted self-loathing that had been her enemy for so long; this was pure, and clean, and empowering. This was a rage that would let her do what she needed to do here, something that would give her strength without costing her soul. Faith took a long, careful look at herself, not quite sure she trusted this to behave as she needed… but for the moment everything seemed okay. With a slow exhalation, she relaxed just a bit, letting the fury warm her, then she returned her attention to what the men were doing.

Whatever kind of mojo they were cooking up, it was obvious that these were bush-league magicians. Faith was no spell caster herself, but she'd spent a lot of time around a true master, and these guys were clumsy by comparison. Their chanting, even though she couldn't understand it, was halting and uncertain, and one of them kept having to stop and leaf through a stack of thin, crumbling parchments before continuing with the next step. The glowing things swirling in the air over a smoldering brazier looked a bit familiar, but Faith couldn't recall where she'd seen them before. Maybe it was something the Mayor had done in front of her once, but he'd done a lot of rituals, in those months leading up to-

"Eirei mitsukeru gaiteki!"

The two men spoke the words loudly, in rough unison, and the eerie greenish blobs of light spiraled outwards from where they had been conjured. Faith felt a shock of recognition as they swept out, passing through various objects as they scattered in all directions. She had seen the Mayor do this once. It was a means of using minor spirits from the netherworld to locate something; sometimes an object, but it worked best with living beings. The spirits could find anyone within a given area, provided the person didn't have some means of protecting themselves from magical detection.

Uh oh.

Faith found herself looking straight up, where one of the ghostly lights was hovering, directly over her head. A moment later it was joined by another, then two more. Turning to look back at where the sorcerers were standing, she saw them staring at her in shock. Obviously they hadn't expected their minions to find her this quickly… or quite so close by.

Surging to her feet, she vaulted forward over the stuffed demon dog, using her right hand to push off of its back as she brought the submachine gun up with her left. Squeezing off a long burst, she swept the stream of bullets across both the men.

At least… that was what she tried to do.

What actually happened was, as she pushed off of the stuffed animal, it slid to the side and out from under her hand, completely wrecking what would have been a killer move, and sending her crashing awkwardly to the floor. The burst of gunfire that should have dealt with both of her opponents instead wound up mostly striking the far wall and a portion of the ceiling. The impact with the marble floor was jarring, but she was rolling up to one knee in an instant, knife in her right hand, and gun still clutched in the other. Her fumble had given the two sorcerers time to react, and her eyes widened as she saw them both raise long, intricately carved staves, which they had snatched up from where they had been leaning close at hand. Even as she brought the gun into line for another try, bright light blazed from both men's weapons. Just to be safe, she brought her blade's shield up, fully enclosing her in golden panes, even as she took aim at a magician and pulled the trigger.

Seeing the gun aimed at him, the man on the right flinched away, instinctively ducking. His partner, however, swept his staff through a short gesture. The wood lit up like a magnesium flare, and baseball-sized orbs of yellow flame leapt forth to strike the barrier protecting Faith. With a dazzling spray of sparks, they vanished, unable to penetrate her defense.

Unfortunately, the spray of bullets intended for the other sorcerer also impacted the shield, slamming into the inner surface of the golden shield and then dropping harmlessly to the floor, their energy dissipated in a series of shimmering ripples. For a long moment, Faith and the two men stared at one another.

Oh, come on! She wanted to scream at the top of her lungs; how many times would she get tripped up in this little scuffle? A quick mental command dropped the shield, and before either of her opponents could blink, she had the gun on target and the trigger back.

Nothing happened; the magazine was empty.

Some days I have this feeling that the universe just doesn't like me very much….

The one with the fiery staff stood straight and raised his weapon, and she hurled herself forward, letting the gun fall to hang by its shoulder strap. Her left leg blurred through an inside-out crescent kick, the heavy sole of her boot driving the staff off to the side and giving Faith a clear shot at its wielder. She took it; bringing the wicked double-blade of her knife across and plunging it into the side of his neck. There was a brief moment where they stood face to face, and she saw the awful realization in his eyes… and then she stepped back, ripping the blade straight out through the front of his throat, freeing a brief geyser of crimson that ebbed even as he fell. Her weapon drank down his life energy as his soul fled to wherever it was that souls went, and she spun into a crouch to face the other one.

Too late; he'd had time to ready himself and launch his own attack. A hundred pencil-thick streams of blue-white lightning arced from his staff, crossing the distance between them in an instant, dancing along her arms and into her chest. Faith bit back a scream as she convulsed, nearly falling to her knees as the energy ripped through her. She'd been tasered before; twice, but neither of them had felt anything like this. The lightning ended, and she shuddered, gasping for breath as she looked up from the scorched and smoldering skin on her hands and arms. Seeing the damage he'd dealt her, the sorcerer looked quite pleased with himself. After taking that hit, Faith needed a few seconds to recover, so she reached behind her back, pulled free the pistol there, and used it to blow a small hole right in the center of his forehead. That did a very nice job of wiping the pleased look from his face, though after the gentle purr of the silencer-equipped submachine gun, the sound of the pistol shot seemed thunderously loud.

With both sorcerers dead, the spirits hovering over her head were no longer under any compulsion to hang around, and they quickly faded away, heading back to where they'd come from. Faith spent a moment catching her breath and making sure that everything still worked properly, and then she hurried from the room.

* * * * *

"Where is she?!"

Taryuu cast his eyes downward, unable to meet those of his master.

"I do not know, lord, but sooner or later we will trap her between groups of-"

The younger man made an angry gesture of dismissal.

"Sooner or later? If it is later, Taryuu, then you will have no more groups of men left! The girl, this single girl that the gods have sent to bedevil me, will have killed them all!"

That wasn't quite fair, and both of them knew it. Since Taryuu had issued orders via runners to bring more of his scattered forces back into these hallways, and they had begun working in closely spaced teams, there had been no more ambushes by the spirit warrior. Either she was hiding somewhere in this maze of rooms, or she had fled to some other part of the building, possibly up into the second or third levels. Somehow though, the girl didn't seem to be the type to cower in a darkened corner. Shifting his grip on his assault rifle in an attempt to ease his aching hands, Taryuu cleared his throat.

"Perhaps we should shift our search to the second level. We can leave half the soldiers patrolling here, in case she is driven back into this area, while we try and locate-"

"No." Akamori was no longer shouting, but his voice was made of iron. "Moving as one large group like this only slows us; this is how she continues to evade me. You-" His eyes pierced Taryuu, his displeasure plain to see. "-Will take a group of your soldiers to the second level. If she is there, then trap her and send for me. If she is not there, then hold the level against her, and I will deal with her in due course."

This did not seem at all a wise course to the older man, but he knew the clan lord would never allow himself to be moved while his anger ruled him. With a deep bow, he acknowledged the command.

"What of me?"

The soft voice drew their eyes to where Dai stood; her emerald dress torn, and her hair in tangled disarray. She was trying to conceal it, but she had been injured during her meeting with Faith earlier. She now walked with one arm held to her side, in obvious pain, but her eyes were hard and bright with barely-suppressed fury. Akamori gave her a long, appraising look.

"You wish to redeem your earlier blunder?"

The young woman flushed so darkly that it was visible even by torchlight, and she nodded. Everyone there knew that if she had not accidentally created a passage through the wall from the refectory, they would not be searching for the spirit warrior now.

"I do, lord Akamori."

The young man nodded slowly.

"Very well. Go then; kill her, if you can."

They separated then, the clan lord and his two bodyguards heading off in one direction, while Dai hurried off in another. Taryuu was left with five men. Taking a moment to consider them, he shook his head. If he was to have a credible chance against the extremely impressive American girl, he would need at least three times that many with him.

"Come with me."

He led them off at a quick walk, trying to maintain an air of confidence. It was growing more difficult by the minute.

* * * * *

There were tall, narrow windows at regular intervals along the ground floor's exterior walls, and in scattered locations Faith found individuals or small groups either trying to crawl outside, or peering out and exchanging gunfire with some of Scott's people. So far she hadn't seen anyone who was skinny enough to actually force their way through one of the slot-like openings, but that didn't stop her from killing them all anyway, just to be sure.

None of them were getting out alive, not one of them; she had promised Scott that.

She'd promised Kelly that too, if only in her own thoughts.

Few of the ones she killed even saw death coming for them. Focused on what lay outside, unable to see more than a few yards in the smoky darkness, most had only the barest of instants to feel the knife entering their bodies, or to feel her strong hands grip their heads before the sudden twisting wrench shattered their spines.

She dealt with around forty that way in just a handful of minutes. Her knife, which had been nearly drained by her use of the shield was now thrumming with energy once again. Despite her many injuries, Faith herself felt energized too. As she moved through the passage that led her back into the central chamber, she couldn't help smiling just a little. This was just like all those late-night ninja movies she loved to watch. With her new 'mental radar' giving her the heads up on where the bad guys were, it was just too easy to find isolated individuals and take them out before their buddies knew what had happened. Even small groups didn't present too much of a problem; in the darkness and confusion she could take them down at will. Like now, for instance.

From behind her, she felt a group of four coming towards her, on their way to the big room. Stepping into a doorway, she waited. A moment later the flickering glow of a torch appeared, and she saw them heading her way at a cautious trot. The light of their torch was diffused by the heavy smoke that filled the air, sharply limiting the range of their vision. As they passed by her, Faith slipped silently forward, ramming the blade of her knife up through the rearmost man's ribs and into his heart, killing him instantly. She lowered him to the floor and faded back into the shadows even as the woman who had been beside him glanced over and found him gone. Her screams halted the other two in their tracks, and they turned to look where she was pointing. Faith, who had already circled in front of the group, darted forward. Her knife dealt swift death for one, while her empty hand snaked around to grip the other by the throat, crushing his larynx in a heartbeat. As he fell to the floor in convulsions, struggling futilely for breath, she caught the torch he'd been holding and stepped forward. The screaming woman didn't even realize her other two comrades were dead until she looked back and found Faith standing there, holding the torch and smiling at her from barely a foot away. The Yakuza woman fled into the huge chamber beyond the passageway, and Faith paused only to douse the torch beneath one of the bodies before following.

She'd let a few of the others live too, hoping that if they spread the word about how vulnerable the scattered groups were, then the rest would gather together. It had worked, to a point. Around half of those who had been inside the building at the beginning of the battle were now dead, and of those who still lived, over half were in the room where it had all began. With her now-reloaded submachine gun in hand, she ghosted into the vast, dim space.

The smoke was thickest here, though occasional gusts of fresher air made their way inside though the shattered opening of the main entrance. The wreckage of the car that was lodged in that gap was burning low, now; a determined man would probably be able to scramble over and past without suffering more than a singed leg or two. Of course, such an individual would still have Scott and his snipers to contend with. The low flames cast very little light inside the room; most of what there was came from the handful of torches carried by the soldiers milling near the front entrance. It looked like there might soon be a concerted effort to rush outside and break past the kill zone in front of the building.

Faith couldn't allow that to happen; two or three at a time were no problem, but if these all made it out there, Scott and his people would be fatally outnumbered, and all of this would have been for nothing. She had to smash this group before it made up its mind to move. In perfect silence, she drifted forward.

The room's side galleries, the areas beneath the balconies along the walls where large support pillars were spaced every few yards, gave her the cover she needed to reach the periphery of the group. Her new battle-sense (Faith blinked, then shrugged. If Buffy could have a 'spider sense', then why not?) let her count the gathering with a glance. Seventy-three men and women here, none of them registering in her mind with the added intensity that she had come to associate with especially dangerous foes. Sure, any of these could kill her, provided she screwed up badly enough, or they were lucky enough, but at least they shouldn't be able to cast spells, or ignore a bullet through the heart.

Provided she was interpreting the signals properly, that is….

Despite the nervous looks many of the Yakuza were casting about, Faith managed to get in among them. Visibility in the room really was awful if you only had human eyes to work with, and all she had to do was act as nervous as the rest of them as she came around the last pillar, waving her gun out at the room and backing up until she was part of the crowd. Three men standing in the middle of the group were the center of attention, arguing in hoarse, smoke-roughened voices about what to do next. Fortunately, all three were locals, which allowed her to listen in. One wanted to wait for orders from their superiors, one wanted to take the initiative and go out after whoever was outside, and the third was all for running like hell and figuring it all out come morning. Working her way through the fringes of the assembled throng, her head lowered and her hair spilling forward to hide her face, Faith found the spot she was looking for. On the side nearest the entrance, no one was paying much attention to anything but the arguing men. They knew the crazy girl with the knife wouldn't be coming from that direction, and whoever was out there beyond the burning car wasn't interested in charging the building. Stepping back to survey the crowd, she shook her hair back.

Okay. I do this right and the odds start to look beatable. Screw it up, and I'm history.

It was a sobering thought. She'd won so many battles, the last two years, but somehow she'd always ended up losing the wars. It was hard, but she had to believe that this time could be different.

It will be. This time will be different. A gust of fresher air made it past the oily flames behind her, and she took a deep breath, checking that the submachine gun hung properly at her side, and drawing the knife from it's sheath.

Do it right, Faith. She glanced down at her knife. Sharp.

At first, no one even noticed what was happening. She stepped up to the rearmost man, a little guy who was straining to see over someone's shoulder as everyone waited for something to be decided… and she killed him. It took only an instant; the blade slipped up through the base of his skull with almost no resistance at all, slicing into his brain and ending his life between one moment and the next. She eased him back onto the floor, gauged the positions of the nearest bystanders, and then did it again. The sounds of distant gunfire, plus the noise made by all those would-be leaders trying to make themselves heard all combined to cover the faint disturbances she made. Despite the darkness, she was amazed at how many she was able to take down before someone turned and saw the row of corpses lying quietly on the floor behind them. As soon as she heard the first shout, Faith changed tactics, slipping past the outmost ring of soldiers, moving towards the very center of their group. Predictably, everyone on the perimeter pulled a gun and stared out into the deep shadows with a terrified intensity; no one thought to consider that their enemy might be among them. As she reached the middle of the small crowd, someone screamed, and started firing wildly at some movement across the room. Seconds passed as they shot hundreds of rounds into what Faith could see was a small group of their own people, who had made the mistake of approaching without a torch. Under cover of that deafening barrage, she went to work again, this time from the inside out. The men who had been arguing over a course of action were cut down in a brief series of lighting-quick moves, followed by those standing closest to them. She wasn't trying for stealth now; there was no way she could go undetected for more than another few moments. The important thing now was to dispatch as many as she could, as fast as possible, so that there would be fewer of them left when the real fight began. With gunshots resounding through the cavernous space, it was only the frantic swirl of motion, and the spray of warm blood that brought heads turning back to see what was happening behind them.

When the first man looked over his shoulder, perhaps hoping for reassurance from his leaders that everything was under control, he received a rude shock. Faith saw his eyes widen as he took in the eleven men and women lying dead in the center of their circle, and he opened his mouth to scream. She struck him in the center of his face with her fist, the blow so powerful that the bones under her knuckles shattered and deformed slightly around her hand. He collapsed backwards before she could catch him, falling into two others who then turned to see who had stumbled into them. She killed both of them, too, but not before their shouts caught the attention of several others. Faith accelerated to her absolute maximum, spinning forward, the mystically sharp blade leading the way. Men shrieked, falling back with only bleeding stumps where their gun-arms had been a moment before. With every cut, every punch and kick, she sent opponents flying, bleeding and shattered. The crowd expanded outwards into a ring as everyone tried to gain some distance from the demon-girl who had somehow appeared in their midst.

Not allowing them to put her in the center, and in a possible crossfire, Faith moved with the soldiers on her side, killing everyone within reach before turning to drive forward down one arm of the ring. As she grabbed a man by the throat, she felt a sudden increase in the level of threat from her right. Without thinking, she used the knife's power to shield on that side, and a split-second later a spray of bullets rebounded from the barrier. Holding the barrier in place, she turned to look. Fifteen yards away, a knot of five men stood, weapons leveled at her. She couldn't shoot them through her own shield, but any weapon that worked….

With a grunt of effort, she took the man she was still holding and threw him overhand, arcing him over the shield and at the men. They threw themselves aside, two of them actually triggering wild bursts at the oncoming projectile as they did so. Faith was already sprinting forward, shield dropped and knife extended, using her submachine gun to rake another group off to her left who were showing signs of getting themselves organized. Several of them fell, but one of them sent a burst back her way, one of which punched through the muscle in her calf, making her stumble for a step or two before she regained her balance. When she reached her targets, she let the gun hang from its strap, and with her blade and her fist she continued to ply her gristly trade.

* * * * *

Scott had been forced to bring most of his guys around to cover the front entrance. That left just one person on each of the other doors, and several of them were wounded to some degree, but with the car burning low a mass exodus was looking more likely by the second. For a minute he thought exactly that was about to happen. Several men managed to climb over the vehicle he'd wedged in the doors, and a couple made it more than halfway to cover before he and his people managed to bring them down. If a few dozen came out at once, there would be no way to-

A sudden eruption of gunfire from just inside the building made him and the others duck, but quickly became obvious that they were not the targets. Shouts, screams, and more gunfire followed, and Scott and his people shared a look of mingled satisfaction and dismay. Faith was obviously very much alive, and doing what she had promised she would do. The uproar reached a crescendo, then quickly faded to only occasional bursts of gunfire. Scott had just begun to hope that the worst of it was over, that maybe everybody was going to make it through the night alive, when the front of the building belched out an explosion that sent bits of iron and concrete screaming past his head. He ducked low, wondering what was happening in there now.

* * * * *

Faith was exulting in the glory of it all. What she was doing was horrible, yes, but the fact that she was doing it, that she was succeeding where no one, not even herself had really thought she had a chance…. Anyone who got within ten feet of her died fast, cut halfway in two by her knife, or crushed by a fist or foot. Anyone farther away than that died only slightly less quickly, with five or ten bullets in their chest and belly. None of them could stop her. She was hurt; blood spattered the floor as she danced through her foes, and some of it was hers, but they couldn't kill her. She, on the other hand, could most certainly kill them; and she did. Singly, by twos and threes, by the dozen, she killed them. When her sub machine gun went dry again, she pulled one of her pistols and used it to pick off those beyond her reach. When a man screamed and charged forward with a hand axe in each hand, she fired a kick into his chest that ruptured half the organs in his body, and incidentally gave her the springboard she needed to launch into a backward somersault which took her out of harm's way as two men desperately emptied their guns at her. She felt like she had eyes on every side of her body, letting her watch every single person in the room with her, and anticipate their every move. Her entire being was in perfect, laser-sharp focus, and it was incredible. Angel had once said that killing could make you feel like a god; at this moment, she fully agreed.

No one else on earth could do what she was doing here; not Angel, not Buffy, not anybody. If only there was someone here to see, to share the wonder of it with her… and to share with her the awful burden of the memories she would carry away from this. Assuming she lived long enough to worry about memories.

Stop it. She told herself silently, the glowing shield flickering briefly into place to deflect the bottle of flaming liquid some enterprising soul threw at her. The bottle shattered, and liquid fire slid down the face of the barrier before she dropped it, leaping over the blazing puddle to impale her attacker on her blade. Stay focused. Here and now; no past, no future, just this. There's only this.

The pistol was empty now, so she tossed it away and pulled the second one. Moving back from the revealing light of the fire, she scanned the area. It took her a moment to find a target, and even as she shot him, it finally sank in. There were only eleven people in the room with her who were still up on their feet and able to fight; only sixty or so left in the entire building, not counting the handful of high-threat boss types.

She was winning; her, fighting alone against all of them, and she was winning.

Gunfire from above came within inches of killing her then and there, and she snarled at herself even as she threw herself backwards, raising a shield over her head to intercept the next burst of high-velocity rounds. Her concentration had lapsed when she'd realized the impossibility of what she was doing, and it had nearly cost her her life. Her battle-sense wasn't perfect, especially when she wasn't paying attention to it, and a group of eight Yakuza soldiers had slipped along the balcony above her until they had a clear shot downwards.

I'm lucky somebody up there is a lousy shot, but if I count on luck to get me through, I'm dead meat.

She dropped the shield, and three rounds from her pistol made them duck back behind the railing, though there was no way she would be able to take them out from where she stood on the floor. She scanned the room quickly, even as she debated heading up to take care of the snipers. The dead lay scattered everywhere, with faint movement occasionally showing where someone had managed to survive their encounter with her, if only for a short while.

There'll be time to come back and finish them later. Right now, those guys up there are the big-

She'd been trying to keep part of her attention on what her battle sense was telling her, and it had just started screaming. Whirling, Faith fired twice before she realized the futility. Across the room, the magical gun-girl had just waltzed in like she was showing up fashionably late for a party. Their eyes met across the intervening distance, and the Asian woman's were practically glowing with hate.

"This time you will die!"

A glowing gun came up, and a bolt of crimson death leapt out at the speed of thought.

Faith hadn't waited for it; when adversary fired, she was already airborne in a vertical leap that would put her down on the balcony above. Rather, it would have, on a good day. Despite her body's supernatural durability, her wounds were beginning to slow her. Fifteen feet straight up shouldn't have been a problem, but she didn't quite make it. Instead, she bounced off the wide railing that circled the balcony, and she would have fallen back to the floor if she hadn't dropped the pistol and grabbed hold with one hand. Below her, an explosion was followed by a brief glare and a wash of heat. Several short-lived screams confirmed her battle sense's appraisal that the magical fireball had killed off several of the soldiers who had managed to survive the melee with Faith herself.

Hey, that was helpful of her. Now if she'll just do that about ten more times….

The soldiers taking cover on the balcony just a few yards away had finally noticed her hanging there, and several fairly big guns where turning her way. Besides which, back on the floor below, gun-girl was probably lining up on Faith's head again. With a twist that brought a stab of pain from the half-forgotten cut along her ribs, she brought herself over the railing and landed in a ready crouch.

Shield me, baby. There were eight of them facing her, so she brought up a group of three shield panes, joined together at the edges to give her protection from a wide arc. Not waiting for them to think up a plan, she rushed them. Bullets whined as they ricocheted wildly from the glowing gold shield, one of them apparently bouncing straight back to wound the man who'd fired it. When she was nearly on them, she dropped the barrier and slid into them like she was stealing home plate, her arms spread wide. She hit two of them like that, and when she surged to her feet she upended one with her empty hand, and she gutted the other with her blade. Inside arm's reach, their guns were less effective. To aim at her, they practically had to shove the barrel into her body, and she was killing them faster than they could figure out what to do. Grabbing a man by the back of his belt, she whirled, slamming him headfirst into the concrete wall with enough force to shatter half his vertebrae. A woman wielding a tiny, exotic-looking pistol she side-kicked in the belly hard enough to launch her over the railing and far out into the room before she dropped from sight. A fierce-looking man with Japanese features threw his gun aside and came at her in a flurry of swift, precise strikes. He was a martial artist, and he seemed like he knew his stuff.

Too bad; I just don't have time to play.

Faith came in low, and when he fired a kick at her face she brought her knife up in a move so fast the air snapped. His lower leg fell away, sheared off below the knee. He fell onto his back, screaming, and she stamped down with her booted foot, crushing his throat and ending his agony. That was four down, and four to go, and the remaining men didn't look especially anxious to close with her. She had just started to grin and deliver one of her favorite insults when she was overcome by what could only be called a sense of impending doom. Forgetting about her remaining foes, Faith turned and sprinted down the length of the balcony, driving forward with everything she had. A bare second later, a brilliant blue flash from behind threw her shadow in front of her, and the shockwave that followed picked her up and threw her to meet it. A rumbling crash accompanied the collapse of the balcony along most of the front wall, which effectively buried the front entrance and the nearly burned-out car in tons of rubble. From where she was sprawled, battered and bruised at the corner turning of the balcony, Faith had to laugh.

Damn; I think she really IS on my side!

"Dai!" That was a man's voice, and a quick check revealed that the brightest, most dangerous-feeling foe registering on her inner sight had just entered the room. "Sashitomeru kono ukatsu!"

Not waiting for whatever would come of that, Faith stumbled to her feet and moved swiftly along the balcony, ducking low to keep from being seen by any of those on the floor below. She was fairly sure that some doors opened up off of the rear section of the raised walkway; that would allow her to play the hit and run game for a little longer, before going after the big guy himself. By the time she reached the back wall, she'd shaken off the effects of the explosion, though there was an unsettling amount of blood on her. In fact, nearly every inch of her clothing was soaked in scarlet, and most of it was hers.

'Sokay, not much longer now. She took a quick count of the presences glowing in her mind. Fifty-six of them left, total. Not a problem, I've already taken out almost four times that many.

Which was true… sort of; except the initial explosion of the car, and Scott's people had taken out some of those. She could finish things, though. It was just that she was starting to get a little tired….

The rear section of balcony, opposite the side that had collapsed, did indeed have several doors opening off of it, as well as a hallway which ran back over the warren of rooms on the lower level that she'd traversed earlier. She moved for that corridor, shaking her head to try and clear a faint fuzziness in her perceptions.

Great, now the battle sense… actually, I think I'll call it battlesight-it really is more like seeing them inside my head…. Okay, my battlesight is playing tricks on me, showing me somebody right here when obviously there's nobody-

Faith came to an abrupt stop, just feet away from where her extended perception indicated an enemy was located. There was nothing to be seen but the start of the hallway, and the presence in her mind wasn't enough to show her exactly where her foe was, just that he or she was right around here somewhere. She cocked her head and listened, trying to fight through the muffled distortion from her still-damaged left ear. There was the sound of angry, frightened voices from the room behind her, distant gunshots, very intermittent, now…. The faint groan and grind of the debris shifting and settling at the front of the building… and the sound of shallow breathing, trembling with tension and fear, just a few feet in front of her.

She turned slightly, then spun through a complete circle, her left foot coming up and around in a reverse spinning kick at shoulder level. Her heel connected solidly with empty air, and the snap of something like bone was transmitted up the length of her leg as whatever she'd hit was flung against the wall to one side. A gasping cry of pain was followed by a man fading into visibility, kneeling on the floor and clutching at his broken arm. A rune-etched knife lay on the floor beside him, looking fairly unpleasant. Narrowing her eyes in angrily, Faith stepped forward, yanked his head back, and drove her own mystic blade into his heart. He had only a moment to stare at her in terror before slumping to the floor, dead. She stepped over him, heading down the hallway.

Serves you right, sneaky little bastard.

Reaching down, she pulled the last clip for the submachine gun from her boot and slid it into place. She had the feeling that she would need it soon.

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