See Chapter One for Disclaimer I still cry when I think about that day.
Shawn, my boyfriend, was working on his post-doc in Archeology. He was on a dig up in the woods around Portland with his professor, and I'd gone along. I had always liked camping, and Shawn had kind of a thing for the two of us making out under the stars.
The professor was a nice enough lady, though the way she talked about the old Indian legends kind of got on my nerves. 'The serpent's fang', this supposedly magical spear she was looking for along with all the old pots and arrowheads… it was like she was obsessed.
Then one morning, this girl showed up. She just walked into sight, strolling along the path dressed like she was heading for a rave or something, and when she saw us she had this strange smile on her face, like she knew a secret joke and was just waiting for a chance to tell someone. She called professor Degus by name, and then she pulled out a knife.
I…. I can't remember most of what happened after that. There was some shouting, and the professor was on the ground in a patch of bloody mud while Shawn tried to fight the girl with the dark hair. When he started to scream, I just ran. It seemed like forever, with the branches tearing and scratching at me, and not being able to breath because I was sobbing so hard. I must have gotten about three miles away before I collapsed by a little steam. I lay there for a minute, trying to find the courage to go back and find Shawn, but knowing that I couldn't.
And then I looked up, and she was right in front of me. She wasn't dirty or sweating; she wasn't even breathing hard. With that knife in her hand, still smeared with blood, she crouched down and started to say something… and then stopped. She just blinked, and cocked her head like she was listening to something I couldn't hear. When she reached out with her empty hand I think I whimpered, I was so afraid, but I couldn't move away. Her fingers touched my stomach, and she didn't move for what felt like a long time.
Finally she stood up and pushed her hair back from her face, and she looked at me in the oddest way.
"Forget you saw me." She said, and her voice was so matter-of-fact that I started to shake even harder. "I found you out here, I can find you again. Tell the cops it was a biker that killed those other two, or Bigfoot, or some shit like that." She wiped off the blade of her knife with a cloth she took out of her pocket, but her eyes were on me the whole time.
"Don't ever tell anyone about this, or I'll know. And I wouldn't be happy, having my rep screwed up by B hearing about this."
And then she walked away. I've never told anyone the truth about that day, and I never will, either.
I didn't even know I was pregnant with Shawn's child until three weeks later. My little Tia was born four days ago, and I don't ever want her to meet the girl with the dark hair.
--From the diary of Brannon Wright
November 29, 1999
Taryuu grimaced as another brief stream of bullets ripped through the air only inches from his head, ducking back around the corner. Four more of his men were dead in the hallway beside him, but at least they had the girl pinned down. The corridor that led here from the balcony was devoid of cover until it branched into this intersection, and he controlled that. Faith was left with the choice of retreat back into the main chamber, or an advance down a passage which he could fill with flying lead. Across from him, two of his soldiers were maintaining a steady barrage, crouching behind the barricade of heavy office tables they had erected and firing at the spirit warrior. The bullets that came back in reply chewed at the polished wood, but the light-caliber submachine gun rounds were unable to penetrate. Taryuu nodded in grim satisfaction. He had six men covering this hallway, and she had no way to get past him unless she took the fire stairs up to the third level and then came down behind him. With so few men left to him, he had been able to position only three on each of the stairwells; he hoped that would be enough if she tried to flank him.
Another burst of gunfire came down the corridor, and one of the men manning the barricade fell back with a cry of pain, to be quickly replaced by another soldier. Their answering fire resulted in a wash of gold light that illuminated the intersection nearly as brightly as the two torches wedged into holes that had been hastily knocked into the walls. Taryuu felt a surge of dread as he saw it. If she could advance behind the cover of her mystic barrier, he and his men were doomed. Leaning around the corner, he fired frantically, hoping to buy more time for Dai or lord Akamori to arrive.
* * * * *
Faith was really feeling pissed off now. These guys had her blocked, and all it took was a narrow hallway and some tables. Her gun, cool as it was, hadn't come equipped with armor-piercing bullets, and apparently that's what it took to get through a barricade of heavy furniture. That wouldn't have been any kind of problem if she could have gotten within arm's reach, but there was a problem with that. She could run forward, or she could use he shield to keep from getting shot dead, but she couldn't do both. Unfortunately, the hall was slightly narrower than even just one pane of the shield, so when she raised it, the edges materialized inside the walls to either side. Since the shield was always a constant distance from the knife that generated it, the shield being locked into place like that turned the knife itself into an anchor. Even using all her strength, Faith could not budge it even a fraction of an inch from where it hung in mid-air. Unable to move forward or back under its protection, she'd dropped to the floor, which meant letting go of the knife, which meant the shield fell, which let the blade drop to the floor beside her. She wasted a moment giving it a dirty look before firing another short burst down the passageway at the barricade. Okay, now what?
A quick consultation with her battlesight showed that the gun-girl was somewhere on the floor below, while the big boss was approaching from behind her, along with a couple of friends. There was also one other significant threat presence, but that one was nowhere close just then. Do I stay and fight the big man now, or wait till later?
As tempting as it was to go ahead and get the most dangerous foe out of the way now, the very fact that he was her most powerful opponent made it stupid to fight him while he still had some henchmen who could help him. This wasn't about fighting fair; she doubted that his guys would stand back and let the two of them have a formal duel and not interfere if things seemed to be going her way. No. Time to run away some more; he's not going to go anywhere I can't find him later.
Jumping up and running back down the hall would likely get her shot in the back, and the boss was coming from that direction anyway. Grabbing up the knife, she frowned at it. I know all these limits aren't your fault, but I sure wish everything worked like I wanted it to.
She sighed, reversed her grip, and stabbed down at the concrete floor beneath her. Sharp.
The blade drove its full length down into the artificial stone, and she pulled it back towards her. Despite the magically enhanced edge, cutting through the reinforced concrete took a little effort. Still, it was only the work of moments to slice out a square a couple of feet on a side. If the floor turned out to be thicker than the blade was long, she didn't know what she would do, but as the last cut was completed, the section subsided an inch or so before stopping. Coming up to her knees, Faith fired a burst down the hall to keep everyone's head down for a moment. Bounding to her feet, she hopped onto the slab, stomping down with her full weight. With a brief grating sound, it fell through the floor, and with her arms raised over her head to clear the small opening, she dropped through after.
* * * * *
"Where is she?"
Taryuu shook his head wearily, resigned to whatever punishment awaited him, and turned to face the source of that voice. Akamori was striding down the corridor that led to the central chamber, flanked by his two bodyguards. From the look on his face, he already knew the answer to his question. With a faint bow of apology, Taryuu gestured to the neat hole in the floor of the passage.
"We had her blocked here, as you had asked, lord. I had ordered the rest of my men to circle and prevent her escape, but…." His hand fell to his side, and he stared numbly down through the opening. Below, a small area of another hallway was visible, as well as the concrete plug that had fallen from the hole. "As you can see, she was able to evade us yet again."
The younger man's lips were pressed into a flat line as he regarded the hole. When his eyes lifted, Taryuu was surprised by the lack of anger there. Instead, the clan lord looked accepting, even… peaceful.
"It is obviously futile to continue in this fashion, so we will stop now."
The older man was uncertain as to what that statement was supposed to convey, and opened his mouth to speak, but Akamori overrode him.
"From what I've been able to see, the girl has already killed most of our followers, by now she might have killed them all. I want you and whoever you have left to come with me."
Taryuu nodded automatically as his mind tried to catch up with the other man's words. He'd known the death toll among the assembled soldiers was mounting, but the confusion had been so great, the lack of communication with the scattered groups so crippling; he'd assumed that his lack of available manpower had simply been a result of those two factors. For the girl to have killed some of his men was painful; for her to have killed them all
… that was terrifying, not only for what it meant for the clan, but for what it implied as to tonight's final outcome.
"Very well, lord. I suppose we are to flee?"
It was only sensible, despite the bitter taste is left in his mouth. To be driven out of their very stronghold, and by a single opponent, no matter how powerful….
"No." Akamori actually smiled at the expression on Taryuu's face. "No, this is not retreat. Faith is merely clearing the board of the minor pieces before making her final move." His hand fell to the hilt of his sword, and his eyes focused on something only he could see. "We will adjourn to my quarters, and wait for her to come for me. I hope to preserve your life, and Nagasu's, by keeping you both with me until she comes."
Taryuu found his hands moving of their own volition, checking the readiness of the assault rifle he held.
"And then we will kill her?"
The young man looked at him as if he had just sprouted horns and begun to dance.
"Of course not. Then I
He turned and headed away, leaving Taryuu to gather what men remained to him. Glancing down through the hole in the floor one final time, a thought occurred to him. He called after Akamori.
"What of Dai?" The gun sorceress was still somewhere on the ground floor, and it was very possible that she would encounter the spirit warrior. Unless he sent someone to find her, she wouldn't know that she was effectively all alone against Faith. At the end of the corridor, the clan lord paused, and then shook his head.
"Do as I have instructed. As for Dai…." He made a gesture of dismissal. "I suspect that she is about to meet her destiny."
* * * * *
Faith hadn't even been looking for more people to kill, but she'd found them. What had been a faint tension in her head had developed into a splitting headache, and the dryness in her mouth and throat had become pure torture. As she had searched for something to drink, it had occurred to her that it was growing very difficult to maintain her battlesight. The little glowing lights in her mind were wavering in and out of focus, and when she tried to resolve them into clarity the headache grew even worse. Huh. Well, it figures. This is like discovering a new arm, and using it to do a thousand pushups the very first thing.
She'd overused her new sense, and in the process had likely strained something. She chuckled quietly as she moved down the hallway. I've overstrained my brain; gee, that's not too hard.
As a result, when she had located a bathroom, she had pushed through the door with no idea of what lay beyond. She certainly hadn't been expecting to find ten men huddled inside, doing their best to stay quiet in the hopes that the demon girl wouldn't get them.
Now, sixty furious seconds later, she was standing in a rapidly-deepening puddle of blood and gore, examining the fresh slice that crossed her flat stomach, just above her navel. It was shallow, but she was tired of spilling her blood in this place. She stepped forward, over the remains of the one who had injured her, and cupped her hand under the faucet. All I wanted was a drink of water.
The cool wetness slid down her throat, sweeter than the most expensive wine she'd ever tasted. Oh well; I would have had to kill them sooner or later anyway. Now, how many more are there?
When she checked her battlesight, the pain made her dizzy, and she had to lean against the sink to stay on her feet. Anything beyond a hundred feet or so was blurry and faint, but she saw three things that cheered her. The big boss seemed to have stopped following her, and was heading upstairs, there were only thirty or so of the little guys left, and they were scattered all over the place…. And there was a very familiar presence moving down a hallway not so very far away. Pausing only to take a last gulp of water, Faith hurried out of the room.
* * * * *
Faith caught up with her quarry in the maze-like section of rooms and corridors, just outside the armory. Low voices greeted her as she peered around the corner, and she watched as five Yakuza soldiers attempted to open the door to the room-the door from which she'd removed the handle earlier. They seemed to be having some trouble getting it open, and the door itself was very sturdy; probably one of the reasons they'd chosen to store weapons there. Finally, someone pushed forward impatiently, snarling something in high-pitched Japanese; the Asian girl with the guns. Faith smiled as she watched the small woman shove the others out of the way, ranting on in her own language even though all of the men looked American, and probably didn't understand a single word. Her tone was clear enough, though, and it earned her some dark looks. She ignored the men completely, with the exception of the one holding a flickering torch. Him she pulled forward, so that the light fell more brightly upon the door. Bending to peer at the broken latch mechanism, she lifted one of her pistols, which began to glow a faint green.
Faith frowned, rubbing a finger across her lips thoughtfully. She's gonna disintegrate the door; can't have that.
Stepping around the corner, she lifted her submachine gun and opened fire. The withering stream of bullets cut through the men like a scythe, dropping all five of them to the floor in bleeding, writhing agony. The gun-girl, of course, was untouched, and whirled to face her. The aura of light around her gun shifted from green to scarlet, and it grew brighter as she raised it to point down the hall.
Faith turned and hurled herself down the other leg of the corridor, ducking her head and rolling as a bright flash lit up everything around her. Coming up out of the roll and onto her feet, she regarded the corner where she'd been standing, where a smallish fireball was now collapsing in on itself, leaving behind smoldering walls and ceiling.
"Hey, you getting tired or something?" She put as much mocking condescension in her voice as she could, which was quite a lot. "That was pathetic! You didn't even singe me!" Faint, vicious-sounding Japanese came back at her from around the corner, but she ignored it.
Glancing down at a door in the wall beside her, she took a moment to snap off the doorknob. It was roundish, brass-plated, and weighed around a pound. Consulting her inner map of the surrounding passages, she turned and sprinted silently away, turning right at the first intersection, then right again.
Seconds later, she came upon the other end of the same hallway. As she rounded the corner, she found the girl frantically pounding at the armory door; she obviously wanted some of the firepower locked inside there. Without breaking stride, Faith whipped her hand forward, hurling the brass knob at the girl. Her opponent had just turned to see what was coming at her when the projectile struck her high on the forehead, bouncing away but delivering enough force to send her staggering backwards. She tripped over one of the fallen men that littered the hallway and sat down hard, emitting an odd-sounding squeak as she sprawled backwards. Faith grinned as she ran forward, but the smile vanished an instant later when the other girl's gun hand came up, and bullets started flying. With nowhere to go but forward, and the hallway too narrow to use the shield, Faith was left with nothing to do but dig in and sprint forward. Despite her attempts to twist and dodge, she was hit twice; once in a shallow graze across the side of her right breast, and the other a through and through penetration of her right arm, just above the elbow. The entire limb blazed with agony, and she grunted as she stumbled a step. She succeeded in reaching where the other girl lay in the floor, but at full speed she didn't have a handy way to stop and engage. Faith settled for delivering a soccer-style kick to the hand which held that pistol, sending the weapon flying the length of the hall and drawing a very satisfying scream of pain from her foe. Coasting to a stop several yards down the passageway, she turned.
The pretty little Asian woman was struggling to her feet, blood streaming from the cut in her forehead, and her dainty little hand already swelling. The fingers there were twisted and discoloring, which didn't bother Faith at all. Seeing that she was barely able to keep her feet, and wasn't pulling any more guns, Faith began walking forward slowly, taking the time to inspect her arm. The bullet had passed all the way through her triceps muscle, but that didn't explain the level of pain she was feeling. Musta clipped a bone on the way through.
That could have been very, very bad, but when she tried to move the arm it responded. Even she couldn't have ignored a broken arm, but everything seemed to be in one piece. The blood flow was slowing, though not as quickly as she was accustomed. That was a sign that her inner resources were finally reaching their limits; she would have to be more careful.
She broke out laughing.
"Yeah, right; I'll be more careful, during the rest of this little suicide mission I'm on!"
The girl facing her blinked blearily, looking a bit dazed from the shot to the head she had taken. When she finally jerked into motion, clawing awkwardly at where her second pistol was tucked into her sash, Faith started walking a little faster.
"Hey-hey! Leave that alone, or I might have to get rough with you."
Looking up and seeing her enemy so close, the gun-girl abandoned her effort and stumbled back a few steps, then turned and started to run. Faith delayed only an instant to scoop up a pair of nun chucks that one of the guys had been carrying before trotting after her.
As she rounded the corner in pursuit, a pale bolt of emerald light splashed across the wall next to her head, and she flinched away instinctively. The magical energy had only disintegrated the surface of the wall down to a depth of a couple of inches, but it sure wouldn't have done Faith's complexion any favors had it struck her.
"You're lookin' a little ragged there, little girl." She called, pacing herself to stay about thirty feet or so behind her foe. "I thought you liked using those guns on people; from what I've heard, you really get off on it." Another bolt, this time a deep crimson, and Faith had to drop straight down onto the floor to avoid taking it dead center in the chest. Somewhere behind her, flames burned sullenly for a few seconds before the flame-resistant material of the building starved it for fuel. She's definitely much weaker now.
Faith thought. Which is good, 'cause I'm not feeling so fresh myself.
When she closed the distance again, the Asian woman had run back out into the central chamber. A handful of Yakuza soldiers were lurking fearfully near the buried entrance, a single torch lighting the area as they attempted in vain to shift the huge chunks of concrete blocking the doors. Babbling rapidly in Japanese, the gun-girl ran towards the others. Seeing who was following after her, they turned and ran, leaving her standing there alone and holding her side in obvious pain. Faith raised her gun and raked the fleeing soldiers with gunfire, dropping all but one before they managed to escape deeper into the building.
Using the back of her mangled hand to wipe away the blood streaming down her face, the sorceress thrust her remaining gun in Faith's direction. A dim, blue-white radiance gathered around the weapon, taking long seconds to build. Shield.
The energy bolt that leapt at her from the pistol was thin and anemic-looking, and it splashed off of her defensive barrier with hardly a ripple. The girl gasped, swayed and nearly fell, then whirled and limped towards the wide corridor on the left hand side of the room. Faith let the shield fade as she raised the nun chucks. A swift sidearm movement sent the weapon spinning across the intervening distance to strike the other woman in the legs. Sprawling full length on the floor, she cried out in pain, struggling weakly to regain her feet. Faith reached her before she made it, kicking the gun from her prey's grasp and then using one booted foot to press the smaller girl flat.
"Uh oh. I think you're all out of tricks." With a flick of her foot, she flipped the young woman over onto her back, then sat down atop her body. With her boots to either side of the helpless sorceress's waist, Faith rested most of her weight on her belly, which made it even more difficult for her to breathe. She took a moment to scan the room, making sure no one was creeping up on her, and then she looked down at her opponent's face.
"Now, like I was saying before. I hear you really liked killing all of Scott's friends yesterday. It's really cool to unload on people who don't stand a chance against you, huh?" She gave the girl a knowing smile. "I've been there, I've done that. So you see, I know that the only way to stop you from doing it again, is to kill you."
The Asian woman was glaring at her captor with eyes full of hate, gasping raggedly as she fought to breathe despite Faith's weight and what seemed to be some broken ribs.
"Death holds no fear for me." She spat out.
That sounded honest enough, and Faith's eyes widened.
"Really? Whoa; a tough chick. Well then, maybe I can think of something more fun than just wasting you. Now let me see…." She glanced around again; still nobody in sight, and nobody within earshot. Hm. I know there are more of them around. Guess the smart ones are either hiding, or trying like hell to get a door open and get outta here.
Smiling cheerfully at the girl beneath her, she went on. "I don't think there's a hammer and nails handy, but I really did like that crucifixion thing you did with those guys yesterday. I have to admit, that impressed me. So let me look around for a minute; I'll betcha I can find something to use to spike you up on a wall someplace."
The Asian woman's mask of indifference cracked then, and the glimmer of fear she showed warmed Faith's heart; and that made her flinch involuntarily. Stop it. This is the kind of shit that twisted you in the first place.
She took a shuddering breath, her eyes closed for just a moment. It was hard, it was so very hard to change the way she acted, the things she wanted… but she could do it if she wanted to badly enough.
"Release me, please. I swear on my ancestors, you will never hear from me again."
Faith opened her eyes, regarding the bloody, sweating woman.
"No. You have to be punished. Justice has to be done."
It felt weird, saying that, but it was the truth. Her foe's eyes grew incredulous.
"Justice? You are no Samurai, no Judge! Why do you do this?"
"Because someone has to, and I'm the one who was here." She leaned forward, running her empty hand through the girl's long, silky hair, gathering it right up against her head. "Because what you and your friends were doing here;" With one smooth slice of her blade, she cut through the hair, which left her holding nearly a yard of soft ebony strands clenched in her fist. "-What you're doing here is wrong." Dai had gone rigid as soon as the knife had touched her hair. Now she seemed caught between tearful despair and an uncontrollable rage.
"What have you done to me?" Her eyes never left the long skein of hair her opponent still held. "How can I face my ancestors when you've-" Words failed her, and the Faith's lips quirked in a half smile at that. "Oh, don't worry, you'll meet 'em. But you wanted to know the main reason I'm doing this, at least, the part with you?" The girl's emerald green eyes were locked now on the gleaming blade of her knife, and Faith brushed her bloody cheek with the cut end of the hair she held, to get her attention. "There was a kid who lived around here. I was sort of a bitch to him, and I meant to tell him that I was sorry." She slapped the girl lightly on the cheek with the hair she held, first on one side, then on the other. "I was supposed to be with him, when he needed me. He expected me to be there, to help him… but I wasn't. I would have apologized for that, too." She cast the hair off to one side, and grabbed the girl's face with her hand, her strong fingers holding her captive's jaw like a vice, forcing her to meet Faith's eyes. "I want you to remember something. 'Jason, I'm sorry I wasn't there, and I'm sorry for the way I treated you.'" She held the girl's gaze with her own as she spoke, the edge of her knife lying across that vulnerable throat. "You think you can remember that?"
Confusion filled that pretty, battered face, so vulnerable and pathetic looking now with its short, ragged cap of black hair, but she answered with the faintest of nods. Faith smiled.
"Good. In case you want to know who Jason is, he's the kid you turned into paste yesterday." Dread replaced confusion in those lovely green eyes, and Faith's voice turned harsh. "Tell him what I told you to say, when you see him."
The blade bit deeply through pale flesh, freeing the crimson within.
* * * * *