See Chapter One for Disclaimer Those idiots.
It was foolish to think that three humans, no matter how highly-trained or experienced, could capture Faith. Perhaps if they'd simply tried to kill her, preferably with a sniper rifle at extreme range… but the old man doesn't like getting his hands dirty.
It's because of him, and the other fossils like him, that the 'Watcher's Council' has faded to a pale shadow of what it once was. They were so indifferent --or fearful-- of the Slayers that they barely interacted with them at all.
Why can't they see that what is needed is for us to take control, direct control, of the girls. Then there will be no more of this 'rogue Slayer' and 'resignation' nonsense.
Well. Even if my attempts to kill Faith while she was safely in a coma were thwarted, I may yet gain the authority I need to reshape this doddering organization. The old man has been in poor health these last few months, and I can use this latest blunder to my advantage.
Once I am head chair of the Council, things will be different.
Senior Member of the Council's High Circle
She moved cautiously through the open door. Two turnings of the corridor past the barricade where she had been stopped earlier, Faith found herself at the base of a dimly lit stairway leading up to the third and uppermost level of the building. The steps were of marble, and beneath the accumulated grime of long neglect there were decorative patterns inlaid in silvery-gray stone. She waited there briefly, wondering at the lack of any defenders. This was a perfect place to try and keep her from reaching the upper floor, but no one was in sight.
Putting one hand over her damaged ear, she turned her head slightly and tried to listen.
Movement, not at the excellent ambush position at the top of the stairs, but in the rooms beyond. There were voices there too, but the ringing from her left ear kept her from catching any actual words. There was, however, a rhythm there, a cadence that was maddeningly familiar. "Back up your karma, beam the soccer, geeks and queens, gun party. Meat and sushi, ears are wagging just at the thought of you."
Those voices. They'd been running through the back of her mind for so long she'd almost stopped consciously hearing them. Now, she was getting them twice, in her head, and faintly, through her one good ear. She struggled again, briefly, to force her hearing into clarity, but it was no use. With a shake of her head, she dropped the enhanced sense to what passed for normal and took a deep breath.
"Lets get this done."
She figured she had maybe twenty or so rounds left in her submachine gun, but there really wasn't time to bother with going back now and trying to find any more ammunition. If the boss got out of the building now, she wouldn't have the energy to chase him down. It was now or never. Slowly, making every effort to keep silent, she drifted up the stairs, gun in one hand and knife in the other.
At the top she found a landing, fronting on a wide pair of glass doors, the area faintly illuminated by an ancient battery of emergency lights high on one wall. Beyond lay a moderately sized reception room, with the desk of some long-ago secretary still gathering dust against the left-hand wall. Faith took a few seconds to look around for traps, tripwires, or holes in the walls or ceiling through which someone was about to start shooting at her, but nothing suspicious was visible. Pushing the transparent doors open with one foot, she entered, her eyes on the larger, wooden doors on the opposite wall. It was from inside there that the voices came.
She had a decision to make. Whoever was in there had to be staring at those doors, just waiting for her to come through. The smart thing to do would be to search for some other way in, maybe even try and climb up the outside of the building and come in through a window.
That would be the smart thing, but Faith found that she wasn't in the mood to play it smart. She wanted this to be over. With a last deep breath she tightened her grasp on her knife and hurled herself at the doors.
The flying kick to the right-hand panel threw it violently aside, and she entered the room beyond with an arc of brilliantly glowing shield sections already forming to deflect the inevitable storm of bullets. She was not disappointed. Gunfire erupted from several points, the projectiles striking her mystic barrier in a torrent of lead. Faith took in the defender's locations in an instant, veering to one side to engage the men there at close range. With ease she altered the shield position so that it still provided cover from the more distant gunmen off to her left, but opened just at the right moment for her to put the blade of her knife through the chest of her first target, while simultaneously firing a short burst that sent another Yakuza soldier spinning to the floor. The two remaining foes on her side of the room had emptied their weapons during her entrance, and Faith took advantage of the momentary absence of fire to close the distance. The first was a ragged-looking woman who threw her rifle down instead of trying to reload it, pulling out a massive pistol and bringing it into line with the attacking girl's head. Faith was too quick; slapping the weapon aside and slashing her foe's throat as she passed by. The last of her opponents on this side was ready for her, his assault rifle reloaded and firing in full-auto mode. Still more than arm's length away, she willed her knife to materialize a shield pane, and it appeared in time to block the barrage. When her momentum brought the barrier into contact with his gun, it shoved the rifle back into him, making him stumble even as the knife in Faith's hand transmitted the force of the impact to her hand. Living matter passes, inanimate things don't, unless someone living is wearing them, like clothes and stuff.
Faith dropped the section of the shield between herself and the man, skipping forward and snapping a powerful kick up into his belly before he could realign his weapon. Okay, as long as there's a pattern to how it works, I can figure it out.
He'd folded forward over her foot, and she had to use her empty hand to shove him up straight so that a quick thrust to his heart could finish him.
Whirling to face where the others had been firing from, she saw that they had broken cover and were fleeing; scrambling for the doors through which she'd just entered. With a scowl of contempt, Faith dropped the shield and used her submachine gun to blow them away. The weapon fell silent even as she let off of the trigger; it was empty.
The sudden stillness that filled the room lasted only a few moments. As her ears recovered from the thunder of her opponent's guns, she slowly became aware of a familiar-sounding chorus of voices, coming from somewhere nearby. Faith turned.
The long, wide room seemed large enough to fill virtually the entire third floor. The high-ceilinged space was lit now by decorative glass lanterns hanging at intervals along the walls. The far section of the chamber was elevated, reached by ascending a broad flight of five steps located in the center of the room. To the right of those steps, and on the same level as where she stood, were three men. Faith immediately braced for an attack, but they made no move towards her. Two of the men were standing, sword hilts visible over their shoulders, knives and pistols at their belts. Their eyes were locked on her, intense with barely controlled hostility. The third man was kneeling on the floor, his hands resting on his thighs. A bare sword lay before him, resting on the same mat he sat upon. Faith recognized him as the leader of the Yakuza she'd spent the evening killing. Despite that, he wasn't as tense as his two soldiers. He looked calm, even… expectant.
"At last you arrive. You seemed so determined to avoid me, I feared you had somehow been offended by my hospitality."
His smooth, cultured voice made her feel like a stupid, hopeless little runaway, meddling in something she couldn't even understand, let alone hope to change. She did her best to shake it off.
"Nah, I'm liking the party fine. It's just my thing is to save the best part for last." Using as much swagger as she could, Faith walked over and took up a position across from him and his goons. Looking them slowly up and down, she gave them a raised eyebrow and a little smile. "So. What about these two?" They looked like they were going to come at her at any second; she watched their hands flexing, just inches from their weapons. That only made her smile widen. "Hiya boys. Three on one isn't usually my kind of scene, but if you really wanna all have a go at once, I'm willing."
For a second she thought it was going to happen; she'd already started to think a command to her knife, when the boss man spoke.
"Furokita, Takayoshi; no."
His tone said that there would be no argument, but that didn't stop one of the men from blurting out a weak protest.
"Akamori-san, please, you must allow us to-"
"No." During all of this, the man had not once looked up at the men standing beside where he knelt on the mat. Instead, his eyes stayed on Faith; measuring her. To his guards he continued. "I do not question your courage, but this foe is beyond you. Obey me now, as your oath requires. Go, join Taryuu and wait there." If anything, his voice grew even more commanding. "Take no action without my order. Do you understand?"
Their replies came in unison, and they bowed deeply, though their master didn't look up to acknowledge them. With a final glare at Faith, they turned and walked away, ascending the steps that led to the room's upper level. Since their fearless leader didn't seem inclined to get up from his seat on the floor, she followed after them. She was cautious, trying to watch everywhere at once just in case this was all some kind of insanely complicated trick, but she wanted to make sure that the two men really were going to be somewhere out of the way.
Besides, there was still that chanting coming from somewhere back here, and she had to know what it was.
As soon as she reached the top of the steps she was able to see for herself.
Four people, two men and two women, were sitting on an area of marble flooring that had been cleared of furniture and rugs. All around them, lines and symbols had been painted, and flames burned in eight small metal bowls around the periphery, each one blazing a different color. It was from these people that the chanting came, the same words over and over. "Bakajikara, binsoku, jikiden, ganbari. Musubu eirei waga junshin iriyou."
Faith gave an involuntary shiver. To finally hear with her ears-to hear clearly-what had been whispering in the back of her head ever since she had first entered the building… it was both a relief, and an even greater frustration. She still didn't understand what it meant, but at least she knew she hadn't been imagining it.
The two bodyguards hadn't paused; they reached the far side of the large room, where one pulled open a door. Faith moved quickly, and got there before it swung closed. Peering through, she saw a short hallway, and three more doors. The one opposite her bore faded writing proclaiming 'roof access', while the one on her right was just closing. The faint sound of bolts being thrown came to her ear, and she shrugged. It looked like they really did mean to sit out the fight, leaving it down to just her and their boss.
She turned and surveyed the layout of the battlefield. There were several groupings of painted silk screens, a couple of low tables, some weapons hanging from the walls, or placed on wooden stands. She made careful note of those as she walked back to where her foe was now standing, facing her with sword in hand. "Bakajikara, binsoku, jikiden, ganbari. Musubu eirei waga junshin iriyou."
Faith halted beside the chanting magicians. She couldn't see what they were accomplishing, sitting there and staring into space, but it bothered her. She pitched her voice to carry down to where the main man stood.
"Hey! You hired a band for your shindig!" A quick glance showed him still standing there, apparently waiting for her. "Bakajikara, binsoku, jikiden, ganbari. Musubu eirei waga junshin iriyou."
She tossed her hair and spun slowly in place, moving her hips through a gyration that always got the attention of the crowd at the clubs. Looking at him over one shoulder, she shook her head in disappointment. "It's catchy, I'll give you that. Not exactly my thing, though; can't dance to it."
The man didn't seem amused; he just stood there, waiting.
"The sorcerers are no threat to you, provided you do not attempt to flee." She watched him from the corner of her eye as she faced the sitting four. Her? Flee? He seemed awfully confident for a normal guy about to face what he had to know was one kick-ass chick. Then again, she was hurt pretty bad. Maybe he thought that would make enough of a difference.
"And if I do try and run?" "Bakajikara, binsoku, jikiden, ganbari. Musubu eirei waga junshin iriyou."
He smiled, just a little.
"The barrier they are maintaining around the building prevents you from escaping. To try would only result in your instant destruction." The calm assurance he was projecting was getting on her nerves almost as much as the chanting. "Better if you fight, and die with honor." Uh huh.
They were just sitting there, with no weapons, no nasty-looking magic ready to boil her alive or anything. They didn't even seem to know she was there. Was there any reason she couldn't just kill them quick and then got down to business with their boss? She extended her knife towards the nearest, probing carefully. Despite the lack of any visible defense, there was probably some kind of-
The tip of the blade touched something, some kind of force that stopped the metal over a foot short of the man's back. Rippling waves of garish orange and green light began to spread outwards from where the metal and the magical barrier intersected, and Faith's skin began to tingle. With a sigh of resignation she stepped back. Okay, so much for that. I guess I could do the same dimension-skip thing I used on their buddy downstairs, but that would leave me without the knife for a couple of seconds, and their boss is right over there….
Turning her attention back to Akamori, she gestured over her shoulder with one thumb.
"So your guys are just going to wait for you in the closet?"
Thirty feet separated them, but she could still see the intensity in his eyes as he stared at her.
"Yes. The soldiers you've slain were a valuable asset, but not an irreplaceable one. Taryuu, however, is one I wish to spare your attentions." His expression became grim. "It had been my wish that Dai also would survive, but as you are here and she is not…."
Faith tilted her head slightly, eyeing him as she slipped the strap of her sub machinegun over her head. Since she was out of ammunition for it anyway she might as well free herself of the extra weight. "Bakajikara, binsoku, jikiden, ganbari. Musubu eirei waga junshin iriyou."
"Dai? The chick with the glowing guns?" She set the weapon on a shelf, beside a group of jade carvings. "Don't look for her to show, I evened up the score with her big-time. Same goes for that depravo-ghoul of yours, the spell-slinger with the day-glo robes?"
The man didn't seem surprised by that.
"Nagasu also." Something that might have been respect was briefly visible in his eyes, but it quickly vanished. "Too prideful by far, both of them, in their need to face you alone." He watched as Faith slowly moved to the top of the steps. "Pity; finding new recruits to match those two will be difficult indeed." He shrugged out of the loose jacket he wore, ending up in something kind of like a karate outfit, but with billowing legs that brushed the floor. The sword he held was utterly black, and looked wickedly deadly. "Your actions here tonight have delayed my plans by a year or more." She flashed him an impudent grin at that, and his gaze sharpened. "Don't be too proud of yourself, girl; you have delayed, not prevented my ultimate takeover of this city."
Faith shrugged with elaborate nonchalance.
"Actually, I'm thinking that after I kill you, all those plans will sort of get delayed indefinitely."
He gave her a noncommittal nod in return.
"Ah. Well, then perhaps we should be about it." "Bakajikara, binsoku, jikiden, ganbari. Musubu eirei waga junshin iriyou."
She shot an irritated glance back over her shoulder at the gathering of the magic club, but they remained oblivious. Looking back to her opponent, she tried to match his confidence.
"Works for me. Except…."
She had her knife, and it was an awesome weapon, yeah. Only… he was holding an evil-looking sword that had to be three feet long. Seeing the direction of her gaze, he actually seemed momentarily embarrassed.
"Forgive me. I would prefer our battle to be as fair as possible. There is a sword on the stand over there that should suit you."
There was only ten feet or so separating them; it had been foolish for her to look away a second ago, however briefly. This time she backed up until she was able to see what he had indicated. A sword like his, the long, slightly curved kind all the samurai movies called a Katanna
rested on a polished wooden stand. It was plain, the blade an undecorated arc of ordinary steel, but it looked functional enough. Reaching out with her right hand, Faith picked it up.
Nothing happened; it was just a sword. She flashed Akamori a little smile.
He nodded silently. Sheathing her knife, she took a grip like the one he was using, and slowly waved the sword through a cut. I don't know which is worse; using my knife and giving him the advantage in reach, or using this and facing him with a weapon he knows how to use and I don't.
Cutting back and forth through the air, she felt the balance and behavior of the sword settle into her nerves and muscles. She still didn't have any skill in fencing, but she was-well, not a Slayer, but she remained something more than human, and it took only seconds for the weapon to no longer feel foreign in her hands. "Bakajikara, binsoku, jikiden, ganbari. Musubu eirei waga junshin iriyou."
Akamori had been waiting patiently, but now a new tension flowed into his body.
"Are you prepared?"
Faith couldn't help but notice how he held his sword like it was a part of him. He's probably been using one since he was four or something. This might not be such a good idea.
There was also the impression she'd had of him, when using her battle-sense, that he was the most dangerous enemy in the entire building. If he was tougher than the gun-girl, or the sorcerer, then that was definitely saying something. She shook her head at that thought. No way. He was dangerous because he was in charge of the others, that's all that meant. One on one, me against him, there's just no way he can take me, Samurai-sword master or not.
She bounced in place a few times, making sure her muscles were still loose. The fatigue and pain she felt were like walls, pressing in on her from all sides, but she set herself to ignore them. She could still fight; one more bad guy to beat and then she could rest. She could beat him; she could beat anybody in the world, except for one girl who was far, far away.
"All set. Let's go."
He made a shallow bow, his eyes never quite leaving hers. When he straightened, his sword moved up into a ready position.
"As you wish."
* * * * *
As soon as he spoke the words he was moving, shuffling forward in a predatory glide, his eyes never leaving her and his sword never wavering an inch. Faith backed away, trying to give herself a few seconds to figure out what was coming.
He had his blade up next to his right shoulder, held vertically. If he had angled it back a little she would have called it a batter's stance; which meant that when he swung, it was probably going to come around from the side and either cut her head from her shoulders, or just plain cut her in half at chest level. In anticipation of that, she held her own weapon up in front of her, in what was basically a ready stance from one of the 'Star Wars' movies. Swords, lightsabres… same difference, right?
Akamori was still stalking her, and if she kept backing up he was going to make her trip over something. Tightening her grip on the hilt of the sword, she stood her ground and let him come. A half-second later he was in range, and there was a blur of movement as the expected attack came at her-not the way she'd thought it would, but straight down at the top of her head. With a gasp threw herself back and yanked her weapon up sideways to block. The blades met just inches away from her face, with a screech of metal that sent a lance of pain through her damaged ear. Stumbling backwards, she watched as he paused for a moment to consider her, then came forward again, his face utterly devoid of any emotion. Shit! That was fast!
Only her faster-than-human reactions had let her get the sword up in time---and she had barely
done it in time. The man came at her again, and this time it looked like he meant business. Faith readied herself as best she could, but when the first strike came, it still caught her unawares.
From a low position his sword came up and across, the blow perfectly placed to slash her stomach open all the way to her spine. She thought she had read that one properly; her own blade held horizontally, close to her body, allowed her to deflect his attack with no problem. Except-without pause, he took the upward movement of the first blow, used the momentum to let his sword rise up over his head, and then the blade was snapping down across her body again, on the opposite diagonal line, impossibly quick, and she was completely out of position to stop him. Acting on instinct, she let herself fall, knees bent and sword rising to intercept his. The blades met again, but not before his had sheared down into her right shoulder deeply enough to score the bone. The force imparted by his sword hastened her fall, and she landed square on her back, emitting a grunt as the impact jarred the fresh wound along with all the others.
Faith tried a kick at his knee, but he glided back out of reach, showing no sign of moving hastily, yet easily avoiding the blow. He's fast; too fast to be human.
Rolling to one knee she raised her sword to defend, but he was circling slowly to her right. She felt the blood flowing from the cut he'd dealt her, but she didn't look at it; there was no point, she would go on until she killed him, or until she herself was killed. The incredible body she'd been given simply didn't have a safety mechanism that would shut everything down when a danger point was reached, in order to preserve itself. It would continue to obey her demands, as best it could, until there was absolutely nothing left for it to give. "Bakajikara, binsoku, jikiden, ganbari. Musubu eirei waga junshin iriyou."
Faith wanted to scream at the sorcerers to shut up, listening to them in the background was making it hard for her to concentrate. This guy isn't a normal guy, there's no way he should be handling me this easy, even if I am hurt, and he knows how to use a sword.
Coming to her feet once more, she decided to go on the offensive. She would use her own speed, neutralize his skill with her superior agility and strength. With that in mind, she watched him closely as he circled her. He had his weapon back up in that behind the shoulder position that wasn't a batter's stance; that made her wary of closing with him, since she knew now how fast that blade could come at her skull. Still, she had to try something before he attacked again. Edging closer, she stared at his eyes. They were calm, looking almost unfocused as he gazed at her… or through her. Minute adjustments made him seem to be moving, even though he remained standing in one spot.
With all the speed and force she could bring to bear, Faith lunged in, bringing her sword across at belly level, determined to gut him and end the duel in one stroke. He was moving almost before she was, his blade whirling lightly in his hands, ending with the blunt spine of the sword pressed into his side, which was presented almost as if he wanted her to cut him in two. The edge of her weapon struck him, and he pivoted with the grace of a dancer, the swords shrieking as they slid past each other. Somehow he was past her, behind her, and even as she whirled, a hot bite of pain in her left calf. Bastard is playing with me!
A wild swing of her sword resulted in a ringing parry, but she followed through with a movement that brought her right heel back and around and planted it in his solar plexus. He grunted, letting the force of the kick move him back out of range. Any thoughts she had of following up on her first contact were dashed when he straightened and took a ready position again; seemingly shrugging off a blow that would have had a normal human writhing on the floor.
They watched each other for a moment, and her thoughts raced. Not even close to being a normal man; but what then? Vampire?
There was no way to know, and she hadn't packed any crosses or holy water for this evening's action. She lunged again, trying to impale him on the end of her sword, even though its design meant it was much more effective as a cutting tool than as a stabbing one. It didn't matter; his blade blurred across, deflecting hers and coming right back at her. Furious and frustrated, she stood her ground and blocked his weapon aside, the shock of the blow making her wrists ache. Stronger than a man, too, stronger than a vampire, even.
Another block, and she felt it all the way down to her heels. Maybe as strong as a rookie Slayer.
Buffy was stronger than that now, stronger by far. So was Faith; at least, she was when she wasn't half dead. Now…. Now he and she were probably evenly matched.
Hacking and hewing at each other, circling as they tried to get a blow past the other's defenses, the two moved in a dance that would end with one of them dead. It took only moments for Faith to realized something about her opponent's style, when for the third time he came within a hair's breadth of behanding her. He's not doing it right.
She felt almost indignant, thought part of it was from repeatedly having to stop halfway through what had been an attack, in order to keep both of her hands connected to her wrists. Going from everything she'd seen on television and in the movies, when you were fighting with swords, you swung at the other person's sword. Eventually you knocked it far enough out of the way for you to get a clear shot at his neck or his belly, and then you stuck the pointy end of your sword there and he fell down. Nothing could be simpler. "Bakajikara, binsoku, jikiden, ganbari. Musubu eirei waga junshin iriyou."
Except… he wasn't playing it like that. When she swung at him, more often than not his parry wasn't aimed at the blade of her sword; it was aimed at her. Instead of blocking her weapon, he blocked at her wrists, while at the same time adjusting his position so that her sword would pass by him with inches to spare, assuming he had to worry about it at all, since it wouldn't be connected to her arms anymore. Every time she committed to a full swing, the edge of his blade would be there, angling to slice into her wrist or forearm or elbow, and she kept having to abort her attacks. What was worse, when she was off-balance from stopping short, he would bring his weapon through a short, beautifully precise arc, which threatened to remove a little piece of her if she didn't go through a wrenching contortion to evade it.
His graceful economy of motion made her feel like a clumsy, staggering cow; the embarrassment was almost worse than the thought of losing. Screw that! I don't lose!
She couldn't out-fence him; that didn't mean she couldn't out-fight him.
Faith bounced back a pace, raised her sword over her head, and leapt back at him, swinging down with all her might. He could have put a thrust straight through her heart, but that wouldn't have stopped her from slicing him into two equal haves; he had to block, or the best he could hope for would be killing her at the same time she killed him. His blade came up and into position, and when hers struck it he adjusted his weapon to the precise angle required to divert her attack off to the side, freeing him to strike back quickly. It would likely have been an effective counter-attack too, except she hadn't stopped when her attack had been stopped. Instead, Faith hurled her body into his, tackling him and driving him back several steps. Akamori found his balance, he kept his footing despite her attempt to bowl him over backwards, but she was too close now for his sword, and she'd let go of her own weapon with on hand in order to drive a rock-hard fist into his side. In a frenzy, she fired punch after punch into his kidney, trying to stun him long enough to gain the advantage.
His teeth clenched against the pain, the man used both hands to slam the hilt of his sword down into her skull, causing her to stagger and nearly fall. Clutching at the fabric of his tunic with one hand in order to stay on her feet, Faith dropped her sword, striking upwards with the stiffened fingers of her left hand, trying for his larynx. He jerked to one side, causing her to miss, but her head cleared and she used her grip on his clothing to drag him forward and to the side, giving her a brief opening. She took it, her fist crashing into the back of his neck with sufficient force to snap a stout board, but only sufficing to sent him stumbling away. Not about to lose this chance, she flung herself at his back, determined to hammer at him until he went down for good. She succeeded in getting her hands on him, only to let out a hoarse scream as he stabbed backwards with his sword. The blade entered high on her right thigh, passing through nearly parallel to the bone there and emerging not far above her knee. In agony, she shoved away from him, and the sword slid back out as she fell backwards, clutching at her leg.
Akamori seemed just the slightest bit shaken, but he remained basically unhurt. Through tight-slitted eyes, Faith watched as he straightened, then circled to where she had dropped her sword. With a sweep of his foot, he sent the weapon flying across the room.
"So much for a fair fight, huh?"
Her voice was ragged, but she couldn't help it. She was getting her ass kicked here, plain and simple. "Bakajikara, binsoku, jikiden, ganbari. Musubu eirei waga junshin iriyou."
The man stood for a moment, watching as she waited for the bleeding to slow. It was slowing, but not very quickly.
"You are finished. Submit now, and I will allow you to serve me."
He was looking at her like so many others had looked at her, as something to control, to use. She was through with that; no one would own her, ever again.
"No way." It took a real effort, but she made it to her feet. With a blood-slick hand, she drew her knife, then made a 'come here' gesture with the blade. "Come and get some."
With a resigned sigh, he came.
* * * * *