See Chapter One for Disclaimer She knows what she is.
Most of us have to discover that, and sometimes it takes a lifetime, but Faith already knows.
She doesn't think of herself as a teacher; she mocks herself almost constantly even now, saying that she's stupid, or useless or worthless.
I know better.
Faith is a thing of such wonder, such beauty, that just watching her shows me some new facet of the world every single day. I can no longer think of what I would do without her.
Besides, she is so very good at killing people; I respect that in a person.
Self-styled 'Apprentice to Death's Daughter'
It was nearly time to head upstairs. Faith walked slowly through the dark rooms and corridors of the ground level, doing her best to avoid stepping on the bodies of the dead. In certain areas that was difficult; some chambers had a thin film of blood covering their floors from wall to wall, and the thick, coppery smell was everywhere. However, the worst part was what she had to do when she found someone still alive.
She had been in a hurry during most of her skirmishes with the Yakuza soldiers. Most of the wounds she had inflicted on them had been instantly fatal, but some had been merely mortal or just debilitating. As she did a final walkthrough, she found many men and women lying in corners, or huddled behind doors, still clinging to life. Faced with those individuals, she was left with a real dilemma.
Those who were obviously dying were fairly easy for her; a quick thrust of her knife to end their torment and it was all over. The others, the ones who were awake and aware of her coming for them, the ones who sobbed in terror and stared up at her with pleading eyes… those were the ones that left her shaken. She had to kill them all; it wasn't a question of her wanting to, she simply had to.
Any one of these people she left alive would be able to come after Alex and Kelly after Faith left town. Any one of them would gladly cooperate with anyone looking for information on Faith herself. Everyone who was in this building had chosen to ally themselves with murderers, they gloried in killing, and promoting fear. She understood them all too clearly, and she knew what had to be done.
That didn't make it any easier to do. If this is what having a conscience feels like, then I'm not so sure I like having one.
She did not take any pleasure in what she did, but she had a responsibility to the people outside, and this was a part of fulfilling it.
When she found a small group of men who were still able to fight her, it was actually a relief. At least if they died fighting, it made her feel less like an executioner.
* * * * *
"These are all that are left?"
Akamori looked from the group of men standing in the antechamber to where Taryuu stood. The older man nodded grimly.
"Yes, lord. These eight, your bodyguards, and myself. There may be others, somewhere below, but-"
The clan lord cut him short.
"Any who have not yet made their way here are already dead." He stood a moment, lost in contemplation. "Imagine, Taryuu. What we could have achieved, had we been able to gain control of her." His expression was one of sincere regret… and avarice. "What a magnificent creature she is… what power she wields."
The loyal retainer took care not to disagree, though Faith left him with feelings other than desire.
"Forgive me, master, but it would seem to me that our immediate concern should be our own survival. If the girl truly is making her way here, should we not get you to safety?" That earned him an intense look from the younger man, and he hastened onward. "Not that you are not a capable fighter, but this Faith is not bound by human limitations."
Akamori nodded agreeably, not appearing upset by his words.
"This is true, but I have prepared for the worst, and I believe I may just achieve what you believe to be impossible."
Taryuu was doubtful, but the clan lord looked quite confident….
"Would it be possible for you to explain the details of your preparations? And what of Nagasu? Surely his magicks would be helpful against the girl when she arrives."
Akamori placed a hand on the older man's shoulder, guiding him into the larger chamber beyond the entry.
"Come with me, and I will show you what I intend. Bring your men, also. If they remain out here, they will die to no good purpose." When Taryuu saw what lay beyond the doors, in what had formerly been a spacious, well-appointed living area, his eyes grew wide. Seeing this, his master smiled. "I fear that Nagasu may have already run afoul of our dangerous guest. But, as you can see, I already have ample magic at my disposal."
Looking at what lay before him, Taryuu felt just a bit of his former confidence return.
* * * * *
Faith kicked the last of the men hard in the chest, sending him rocketing backwards and into the wall. Before he had a chance to fall, she was on him again, impaling him through the heart with her blade. His life fled in moments and he slumped to the floor, leaving her alone with the dead.
This had been the last of them. Now the only living creatures remaining in the building were those awaiting her on the floors above, and Faith herself. She was tired, but she knew that if she stopped and rested now, if she allowed the adrenaline to flow out of her, then her wounds would stiffen, and she would be in no condition for the battle that was yet to come."Back up lawyer, beans joke you, just kids then, hide and seek. Most of you icky water jump in if I were you."
The voices in her mind were growing louder and more persistent all the time. It was now a constant chorus, whispering in the background, and she had to force herself not to stand and listen; trying to make sense of what they were saying was too distracting. Pressing the heel of her hand to her forehead, she tried to block them out.
If she was weary, at least her knife was eager. Filled with so much energy that she was surprised the steel didn't shine like the inside of a spotlight, the weapon was thrumming with all the power it had absorbed. During the latter stages of her hunting, Faith had refrained from using any of the blade's special abilities. She wanted it to have ample reserves when it came time for the final battle. And just maybe, there'll be power enough left over for what comes after, but now's not the time to worry about that.
She walked out into the central chamber, pausing for a minute to look around her. The car Scott had wedged in the entrance was nearly buried beneath the collapsed balcony. The only light in the room came from a few guttering torches, lying where they had been dropped as Faith had killed their owners. The building seemed utterly quiet now, as if it were holding its breath, waiting for the final resolution of the conflict which had raged throughout its innards. Faith shook her head in irritation. It was just a building; dead concrete and iron, and this was something she needed to get done instead of standing here and getting all whimsical about it.
The heavily accented voice echoed through the room, and she slowly turned to look for the source. There, just about where he'd been standing when she first entered the building nearly thirty minutes before, was the magician in the glittering robes. He stared down at her, looking composed, even serene, though his eyes glittered dangerously.
"You have proven to possess a capacity for destruction that exceeds my wildest imaginings." A cold smile crossed his thin lips. "However, you have made a fatal mistake in arousing my wrath."
Faith nodded noncommittally.
"Uh huh. So; how's the hand?"
His gray brows lowered as he glared, but she turned away, moving to where the rubble at the opposite end of the room formed a crude ramp up to the balcony level.
"You will pay for that injury, girl. An infinity of pain will be your reward for every drop of my blood you caused to be spilled." Faith strode up the ramp, balancing easily despite the loose and shifting surface. "You believe yourself to be my equal? When you are but a warrior, no matter how powerful?" His laugh was like a hearing a razor; just the sound of it made her damaged ear start bleeding again. "You may have survived our attempt to control you, but a direct conflict between us is a very different thing. My magicks can never be defeated by mere physical means."
She had reached the top of the ramp, which put her on the balcony, directly across the room from him. Putting her hand to her ear, she took a moment to examine the drops of bright blood smeared across her fingertips.
"Cute trick, but I've seen better." Dropping her hand to the submachine gun hanging at her side, she gave him a little smile of her own. "How about we try some 'mere physical means'?"
Seventy feet of space separated them, which was a bit long for accuracy with a weapon like the one she held. However, in the last fifteen minutes she had fired over two hundred rounds from that particular gun, and its parameters were now graven into the muscles, nerves and bone of her arm. She fired, and it was no surprise to her when she hit what she was aiming at.
Not that it did her much good. The bullets flew straight and true, but they vanished in little puffs of green flame a foot or so from the sorcerer's face. His smile returned, mocking her, but Faith didn't waste any time crying over things she couldn't change. Letting the gun fall back to her side, she started walking around the balcony towards him.
The man grew intent, raising the oddly formed staff he held in his left hand.
"You will come to regret your refusal to submit to me." A faint nimbus of dark energy now surrounded the staff, which seemed to be made of lengths of pale bone that had somehow been smoothed and fused together. The man's eyes were utterly black now also, and his voice took on a disconcerting resonance. "There are worse things than death, you savage, stupid child." The shadows surrounding the staff grew darker, and began to writhe. "I shall show some of them to you."
Faith could have sprinted forward, but it was already too late for that.
She knew it was too late because she recognized what he was about to do. The Void Wraiths. I saw some at the hotel, when Alex broke that magic circle. That's why I was thinking about the time the Boss sent me to that place, where those demons used them to test me.
The memory flashed through her mind in an instant, even as the Japanese sorcerer raised the staff and shouted. "Arawareru! Arawareru dearu furii musaborikuu!"
The rod he held radiated ebon force, somehow managing to glow black, even in the dimness. Faith was too far away to reach him in time, and unsure of what she would do even if she could. If his mystical barrier could stop gunfire then it would probably stop her fist or knife, and she had no desire to see either of them disintegrate as the bullets had.
Out of the darkness gathered around the sorcerer, something materialized, swirling forward like a wisp of black silk caught in a sudden breeze. Silently, unerringly, it flitted towards its target. Knowing it was futile to run away, Faith stood still and composed herself for what was coming.
At first it was barely noticeable; like a cool current of air just brushing across her skin. A few moments later, the chill grew stronger, sliding up along her thigh, over her hip, and lightly touching on the deep wound that traversed the ribs on her left side. The sensation of cold grew suddenly sharper as the entity found the disruption in her body's patterns created by the injury, and it began to feed.
She remembered this; she'd been through this before, and survived. I deny you, I reject you.
Faith stood staring straight ahead. She didn't bother to look down at the shadowy wisp that was trying to kill her, there wasn't any point. It was not properly of this world, nothing she could do would hurt it, or drive it away. The only thing she could do was hold it at bay until she found a way to deal with its summoner. You can't steal any of me, I'm one piece, solid, untouchable. There's nothing here to you can put in your pocket and walk away with, everything's nailed down tight.
The sorcerer wasn't standing there idle; he was bringing forth another one every few moments. A second one joined the one already on her, then a third. Cool, ethereal caresses roamed across her battered body, bringing about an involuntary shiver. One of them glided across her face, dimming her vision for a second and feeling like the exhalation from an open tomb. No part of me is yours to take. I've got things to do, important things, so I know you're not going to be able to stop me.
The cold at her side where the first one had found a hold eased a bit. Despite the life energy that was leaking from her aura, mirroring the blood that still oozed from her more serious wounds, the shadow hadn't really been able to find a hold on her. So long as she was careful, it wouldn't be able to do more than nibble at her. Unfortunately, enough nibbles would kill her just as surely as being bitten in half, and there were now ten or twelve of the things sliding over her.
She had to get close to him, or he could just outwait her. There was a problem with that, she remembered it from her first encounter with the void wraiths, but she had to try. Slowly, carefully, she took a step forward. Instantly, half of the shadowy entities moved to her legs, hungrily lapping at the minute outflows of energy that were a natural result of a living creature in movement. The firing of the nerves, the flex and pull of the muscles… whatever it was, she had known it would happen, but it was even worse than she remembered. My body, isolated from everything around it, not affected by anything nearby. I'm alone, unconnected. I'm strong enough to walk down to the end of this damned balcony and tear that guy's head off, and you're not going to stop me.
It wasn't working. Whether it was just because there were so many of them, or because she was hurt so badly, and in so many places, they were drinking the vitality right out of her. By the time she had taken ten steps, both legs were cold and nearly numb. By the time she took ten more, she would be ready to fall on her face. Trying to run forward would only make things worse, as the energy release from such violent activity would be even greater. A feeling of hopelessness began to grow within her, and immediately she felt sharp bites of bitter cold at several points on her body. Without her will to shield her, they would drain her dry within seconds. No; stop. I'm not going to lose, I'm not going to die here.
It didn't sound convincing, even to her. Across the way, the sorcerer had paused in his conjuring.
"Ah, you struggle so, as if you truly had the soul of a Samurai. Lord Akamori would be quite impressed." His sneer was visible even through the haze that lay across her eyes. "Of course, you and I know it to be nothing more than simple animal stubbornness."
There were so many of the wraiths coiling around her that she seemed to be wrapped in layers of sheer black silk that billowed and moved in an intangible wind. She stood in place, but with the beings gliding over every inch of her skin her legs couldn't recover. They remained mostly numb, and she did the only thing she could think of; she pulled her knife. The man in the gaudy robes laughed out loud.
"What's this? Now you think to cut your way through these as you did those poor imbeciles whose remains now fill this place?" His voice dripped with scorn. "Go ahead, girl; amuse me before you fall."
Cold moved through her arm as she lifted the blade, the wraiths coiling around the limb, sucking the energy and warmth away like icy sponges. Experimentally, she waved the business end of knife through one of the misty shadows, but it passed through with no effect whatsoever. Willing the weapon to supernatural sharpness did no better. Exhausted, she let her arm drop limply to her side. Now what?
Gauging the distance from where she was to where the sorcerer stood, she knew despair. Sixty feet, at least. I'll never make it.
She was so tired, and the pain from all the cuts and bruises and burns was beating at her, slipping in around the edges of the barriers her Slayer power had put there so she could keep fighting. Slayer power? I told that demon that I wasn't a Slayer, anymore. So what right do I have to that power now, anyway?
She didn't have an answer. It had felt so right, saying what she had said to Whistler, coming here and fighting this impossible battle. She'd never believed in fate, but there was no denying that she had felt something….
If only she still had the little glass sphere with the tiny Faith image inside, the talisman the Mayor had given her, before her last encounter with creatures like these. With it, she'd survived the demon's test; she'd managed to endure an assault nearly as intense as this one. Wishes were pointless, though. The sphere was lost with all the rest of her things, probably sold to pay for Willow's hair dye, or whatever Buffy had ended up doing with the stuff from her apartment. In her mind she saw the talisman again, recalled how her mind had been able to wrap around it in order to help her survive her encounter with the void wraiths a year ago. Of course, that time the beings that had conjured them had not been trying to actually kill here, and this time someone most certainly was….
"It's a pity your body has been damaged so extensively, but there are any number of things a talented sorcerer can do with even bits and pieces of a Slayer."
The talisman's image of her had been the key, a way to hold her focus even as the Wraiths tried to devour her by inches. Maybe there was still a way to hold on, even without the physical object to aid her….
Faith held the image of herself in her mind's eye; not flawless and perfectly groomed any more, but as she was now; battered, bloodied, someone who had faced everything that could possibly be thrown at her, and survived. In her hand, her knife thrummed; grew warm. Her voice was husky, nearly inaudible, but in the stillness of the huge chamber it still carried.
"I'm not a Slayer."
Faintly, it's glow a barely visible shimmer of gold in the dimness, the shield enclosed her. The sorcerer stared in surprise, then burst out laughing.
"More stubborn than I had thought!" His eyes narrowed, and he moved one hand through a brief gesture. "As I thought; that barrier is effective against physical attacks only. If you think it will aid you now then you are mistaken." Naked avarice was plain on his face as he stared at the weapon she held. "That artifact you hold is a powerful tool, if a bit too narrow in it's dedication to combat. Still, it will be a welcome addition to-" He broke off in surprise, his eyes widening.
Enclosed in a golden sphere no thicker than a soap bubble, Faith began walking forward.
The man was sputtering disbelief.
"N-No! I can see exactly what that is, and it has no power at all to protect you from them!"
He was absolutely right; the void wraiths were still there, sliding across her body in search of life energy on which to feed. They were finding it, too; her arms and legs were numb with cold, and her torso felt like it was wrapped in bands of ice. The entities were draining her, but only very slowly. Faith walked forward slowly, inside the golden bubble where nothing could touch her. She wasn't flawless, strong, or confident. She was ragged, and bloody, and afraid. She was so tired that every movement was accompanied by a bone-deep ache, but she was determined to keep going. She was going to see this thing through to the end, and nothing could stop her.
Angrily, the sorcerer resumed his conjuring. Over and over again he gestured with the staff of bone, spoke the words of summoning, and sent fresh wraiths toward her. Effortlessly, the entities passed through the glowing barrier and wrapped themselves around her, joining those already there… and it made no difference at all. Slowly, step by step, she advanced. The Faith inside the sphere wasn't beautiful, or immaculate. She was a wretched, dirty thing, stained by the filth and corruption of the world, her hands red with the blood of the innocent and evil alike. She couldn't hope for love, or redemption; all she could do was what she knew how to do. Where she found people like herself, the monsters in human form, she would kill them. Where she found a place like this one, where the cruel and twisted made their home, she would burn it down. She wasn't a Slayer, but she was still a force to make the darkness know what it was to be afraid. She was the one who could fight the way they fought, do to them exactly what they did to others. She knew them, she could destroy them. Because she was one of them.
She rounded the corner, moving up the side of the encircling balcony upon which the man stood, and he didn't move. Seemingly frozen in place, his face was a mask of intense concentration. She supposed that he had to maintain control of the things he had summoned, otherwise he could have simply turned and run away. With slow, careful steps, walking on legs she could no longer feel, Faith came face to face with the sorcerer. Where the bubble around her met the magical barrier around him, a flat plane of gold and green light swirled and sparked angrily. With little hope that she would accomplish anything, she extended the knife towards him. At the edge of his defense the blade was able to penetrate, but as it advanced the resistance swiftly mounted. The tip of the weapon was still a foot away from his chest when it came to a halt, feeling as if she were trying to push through a steel wall. The lightshow had grown dazzling, and a shrill screaming sound, like metal on metal was trying to split her eardrums.
Faith stepped back, considering. The wraiths were in a frenzy now, so thick around her that it seemed the world beyond them was only a dim and shifting shadow. She took another slow step back, and then another. The sorcerer, both hands clutching his staff as he concentrated, was yet able to stare at her incredulously.
"You are no mage, no mystic with knowledge of how to guard your soul." He sounded affronted, even petulant. "How is it that you survived our assault on your mind earlier? How is it that you managed to stand, even now?"
Faith lifted the knife once more, meeting his eyes across the distance that separated them.
"Because I know who I am."
With an explosion of effort that involved only the muscles of her right arm, she whipped the knife at her foe, directing two commands at the mystic weapon even as it left her fingers. Go-and Return.
A streak of gold and scarlet light marked the blade's exit from the physical world, as it obeyed the first command… and a flash of scarlet and gold marked its arrival, as it obeyed the second. A ripple of sickly green light occurred in the air between Faith and the sorcerer, his defenses reacting to the passage of the weapon, but it failed to stop the blade as it skipped across another dimension on its way to burying itself deep in the man's chest.
The gold bubble surrounding Faith had vanished as soon as she threw the dagger, but it had only been a tool to help her concentrate. The arm she had used to make the throw hung limply at her side, invisible beneath a seething mass of void wraiths, but that wasn't important. She watched as the sorcerer staggered, looking down in shock to see the hilt standing out from his gaudy robes. A sudden change swept over the shadowy beings that cocooned her, and then the entities were drifting out and away from her, momentarily without direction. Faith walked forward, the first tingles of renewed sensation already moving through her chilled body. The man's magical protection was gone, and she brushed his hand away as he tried to keep her at arm's length. Grasping her knife, she yanked it out, drawing a gasp from her mortally wounded foe. Stepping back, she waited.
The man seemed to be trying to speak, but a sudden burst of coughing brought bright blood from his lips. He swayed, outraged disbelief filling his features. Faith's eyes narrowed with satisfaction.
"You're the head spell-guy, right? So that means you were in charge of whatever was going on with Kelly, this morning at that hotel." She could see the truth of it in his eyes, even as they began to glaze over. "Good; I was hoping to find you. Have fun with the demons, or whatever you have waiting for you, you bastard."
The staff of bone fell from his hand, and a moment later he was lost within a whirlwind of wispy shadows, as the void wraiths turned upon the one who had summoned them from their home. It took only moments, and the sorcerer never made a sound as he collapsed to the floor and died. Turning away from the swiftly fading entities, Faith headed for the last confrontation.
* * * * *