See Chapter One for Disclaimer She will gather unto her the mightiest fighters of the race of man. They will see her, and know her to be their life, their calling, their destiny.
Kings and Queens shall bend knee to her, even as the great councils plot against her.
And the Slayer?
Only she will have the power to turn the Warrior away from the path that is ordained, yet the futures are hidden where it concerns those two. Great hatred -or love-lie between them.
Which of the two shall triumph is not yet ours to see.
--From 'Pasts that are yet to be'
The prophecies of Kendon Norman
--Flying, falling, the edge of the rooftop shrinking as it drew away from her. Her hand was wet with warm, slippery blood, fingers pressed tight against her belly to keep her insides from spilling out. She felt the wind rushing past her as she stared upwards, and there was barely enough time to hope that she had timed it right, that the truck would be there, before--
No, that was another time, another place. She kicked and thrashed as she fell, trying to avoid landing on her head, or in such a way that her spine would be shattered-
Impact; not on asphalt, but on dry earth. The jolt that went through her body awakened so many sources of pain that she was nearly sent into unconsciousness, but she still managed to roll down the slight slope, dissipating at least some of the force of the landing. When she came to a stop, Faith spent a few seconds just trying to remember how to breathe. Everything hurt; but the fire in her hand and chest drove all the rest into the background. At least that fucking chant is finally gone.
It was, too. For the first time in what seemed like forever, there was silence in the back of her mind. The implications of that were not lost on Akamori, either. He lay a few yards away, staring at her with a mix of hatred and shock on his face. Movement drew both their attention; a ring of men and women surrounded them, with late arrivals shouldering forward in order to see. Most seemed to be the ragged inhabitants of the area, but a thick sprinkling of Yakuza soldiers was there too, along with a few that Faith recognized as Scott's people. Scott himself appeared moment later, standing with the rest. Many of them were armed, but no one made a move. They merely waited.
She levered herself to her feet, and across from her Akamori did the same. Unlike her, he still had his weapon; the ebon-bladed sword ate any light that touched it, and the man managed a smile.
That was Scott; she half-turned, and her good hand snapped out to catch the length of iron pipe he tossed her way. An inch thick and as long as her arm, it had a comfortable weight as she hefted it. The young man grinned.
"Fair's fair. Now kick his ass."
She nodded her thanks, spinning the metal rod like a cheerleader's baton as she turned to face Akamori. His confident smile had faded, replaced by one of grim determination. In unspoken agreement, they both moved forward.
* * * * *
Taryuu and his people had gone out onto the second story's roof when their master and the girl had leapt to the level above. From there, they had been unable to see much of what transpired, but they had seen the fall all too clearly. When the young lord regained his feet and moved to face the spirit warrior, the soldiers and bodyguards beside him had thought matters were well in hand. Had not their master all but defeated the girl already? Whatever trickery she had used to pull him from the rooftop, it had failed; he would finish her in short order.
Only Taryuu knew the truth. He, and the four sorcerers who joined them moments later. He glanced at the four, noting that exhaustion had them sweaty and trembling. The magic they had been sustaining must have been a severe drain on their energies. Now, of course, there was no further need. They would have felt it when the clan lord had passed beyond the boundaries of their power, and had ceased their ritual immediately. Now that he was outside the building, beyond the painstakingly wrought lines of energy they had threaded around and through the structure, there was nothing more they could do to aid him.
The feeling that had been plaguing Taryuu all day returned now, the weight of it almost more than he could bear. The feeling of dread, the certainty that everything he had fought to build and preserve throughout his life would end before his eyes. He knew what was coming, but he did not turn away. A man had to have the courage to face his fate, no matter how awful it might be.
With a heavy heart, Taryuu watched the ending unfold.
* * * * *
Faith was in a bad way; with only one good hand, a leg that was barely working, a host of minor and not so minor wounds, and a hole in her chest that hurt so badly when she moved that she felt near tears. All in all, it would be safe to say that she wasn't exactly at the top of her game.
That wasn't keeping her from beating the crap out of Akamori.
He'd come through the fall pretty well. He had only the one bad injury to Faith's half-dozen or so, and only a couple of minor ones to her twenty or so. Despite all that, he was having a much rougher time of it now, and she knew why.
"All that talk about 'fighting fair' was bullshit, wasn't it?"
She lashed out with the rod, smashing his sword to one side and coming back across to strike his shoulder hard enough to stagger him. He tried for a cut and she blocked it, and when he used the rebound to bring his blade back up and around she brought her weapon whipping across to slap it away.
"I mean, maybe if you'd offered to fight me, one on one, at the very beginning, I could sort of forgive you." He feinted again, then shifted his grip and cut across in a blinding arc. It was fast, but no faster than a human could manage. She got the length of metal she was holding up in plenty of time, and both weapons rang loudly at the impact. "Letting all your guys wear me down for you, though. That's cheating. So much for the honorable Samurai, huh?" He circled her, still trying to best her, and she simply turned in place. For now she was content to let him do all the work. When he cut downwards towards her head, she raised the bar to parry. When his foot flashed up at her face, she tilted her head to one side, allowing it to brush by, just touching her ear along the way. Stepping back a pace, she hooked the bar under his extended leg and used it to hurl him upwards and back. He turned a backwards somersault, but even a world-class martial artist wasn't perfect. He flubbed the landing, staggering backwards several steps before regaining his balance. It was a far cry from what he'd been showing her earlier, and they both knew it.
"What's the matter?" She taunted, stalking; or rather, limping forward, the length of iron snapping back and forth in quick arcs. "You were a lot faster inside, and up on the roof. Something different, now?"
His answer was a strangled shout, and a vicious cut with the full strength of both arms behind it. She blocked it with ease, forcing his sword aside and using the blunt end of her weapon to jab him in the belly, hard enough to send him staggering backwards.
She was at just a fraction of her usual strength; no more than two or three times as strong as a man. That, of course, made her two or three times as strong as him, now.
"Those sorcerers you have chanting up there, they were feeding you somehow, huh?" It was so obvious now that she'd realized. Why it had taken her so long… well, she'd never had a reputation as a brainiac, no reason to change things now. "That's why you were so confident you could take me, tonight, but I'll bet you never offered to come out in the city to hunt me. Your guys could only do it on your home turf, right?" He'd backed nearly to the circle of onlookers, and they showed no signs of parting to let him pass. With a defiant look, he slowly assumed a ready stance, the sword high above his head. It looked horribly open and vulnerable, but she knew he was daring her to come forward. Any strike she made would likely connect, but he would be able to land his own blow at the same time. Death for both of them. She nodded, and moved in.
With deceptive casualness, she twirled the iron rod around and around in her hand, advancing slowly. He stood like a statue, ready for the one opportunity he would have to end her life and pull victory from the jaws of defeat. Just at the edge of engagement range, she paused, meeting his eyes with her own. A heartbeat, then two, and then she moved.
Another lunge, with the end of the rod driving forward, straight for his throat. She saw the beginnings of his response start at virtually the same instant, and she stepped forward, using her superior strength to change the direction of her weapon in mid-strike, the rod describing a right-angle as she turned it sideways and brought it up to block the descending sword. Only someone with superhuman strength could have used a move like that, only someone with superhuman speed could have done it quickly enough to beat an experienced swordsman.
Lucky for her that despite being significantly slower than usual, she was still superhumanly fast.
The impact between the iron rod and the ebon-bladed sword not only stopped Akamori's attack; it tore the weapon from his hands, sending it spinning into the air, above and behind Faith. She didn't take the time to appreciate the stunned expression on his face. Spinning the pipe around her wrist, she brought it down, then across in a carefully controlled strike that took him in the side of the head and dropped him to his knees.
A rustle went through the onlookers as several of the Yakuza soldiers there shifted their weapons. Others, Scott's people among them, made a show of readying their own guns. Ultimately, no one took action, instead leaving Faith to do as she would.
What she did was turn and walk the five steps to where Akamori's sword stood, embedded blade-down in the earth as it had landed. Casting the rod aside, she reached out and gripped the hilt, pulling it free. And now I am king of all Britain.
The thought had to have been a result of her exhaustion, and she shook her head to try and stay focused. Just another minute or two and then she could let go. Only one more thing that needed doing here. She turned around again, facing the kneeling man. He didn't seem fully conscious, but his eyes were open, and more or less focused on her.
"Can I make you beg, before I kill you?" She started forward as she spoke his words back to him, the sword balanced lightly in her one hand. "Can I make you scream?" A look of panic crossed his battered features, and he made an abortive attempt to regain his feet. He lacked the strength, falling back to the ground, forced to support himself with his hands to keep from collapsing entirely. Faith stopped in front of him, resting the blade of the sword on his shoulder, the edge just kissing the side of his neck. She smiled.
"I believe I can." He stared up at her, his eyes wild, sweat running down his cheeks and an uncontrollable tremor making his arms tremble. He looked to be on the brink of total collapse; here was a man who had been ruler of a private empire, who had been within a hair's breadth of achieving everything he'd desired… and now it was gone. She could break him. With a few more words, a slight pressure of the sword she held, she could show everyone watching how weak he was, and how powerful she was.
Faith shook her head slowly, and gave a weary sigh.
"But I won't. Because I don't do that anymore."
She did what she had come here to do, what she had to do. The sword came back, then blurred down and across, taking him cleanly across the neck.
* * * * *
Taryuu's world ended with the fall of that sword. His entire life had been spent in service, first to Akamori's father, then later to Akamori himself. He had sided with the son against his former master, believing the younger man's vision of the clan's future to be clearer, more far-seeing, than that of his father.
Now, as he watched the clan lord's head fall to roll across the ground far below, he saw that the clan's future no longer existed. The Thousand Year Storm had ceased to be.
The four sorcerers and the two soldiers on the rooftop with him were aghast, staring down in disbelief. He felt them turn and look at him, perhaps seeking his guidance, but Taryuu ignored them. Moments later, they had left the rooftop. Perhaps the sorcerers would seek to flee. Their powers might well allow them to escape, though the effort of boosting their master's abilities had likely drained them of any magic for hours to come. The bodyguards were another matter. They too left the roof, but he knew that they would go no farther than the room just beyond the broken window. There, they would do what their oaths, and their honor demanded Taryuu himself would do the same, if by less traditional means. He took one last look below, at the now headless corpse of his lord and master, and then he drew forth the heavy pistol he carried beneath his jacket.
He indulged himself for a few moments, recalling the more pleasant periods of his life, the hopeful times, when it had seemed that he might be a part of building something great. He recalled the young boy who would become his master, the promise he had shown…. Wasted now, lost forever, on this grim, foreign shore.
Taryuu pressed the barrel of the pistol firmly into the hollow under his chin, and pulled the trigger.
* * * * *
For a few seconds, Scott was sure that it was all going to start again. The sound of gunfire from the roof, the body that fell practically on top of him as he joined the rest of them in scrambling back and searching for cover… it almost triggered a renewal of the whole thing, right here.
Faith kept that from happening.
"Hey! Nobody do anything!"
Her voice cut through the screams, shouts and the sounds of imminent mayhem, its power belying her ragged and battered appearance. No one else could have gotten the attention of that mob, but the dark-haired girl had definitely earned a healthy degree of respect from everyone present. They subsided, though the various factions continued to shoot nervous, hostile looks towards their opposite numbers. Scott himself, standing with the bare handful of people he had who were still able to fight, tried to watch every direction at once.
Faith limped a few steps away from the remains of her fallen foe, then planted the tip of Akamori's Katanna on the concrete sidewalk and leaned on it.
"If any of you start shooting, I'll beat the living shit out of you and anyone within twenty feet of you." She started to raise her hand to push the tangled mass of hair away from her face, only to give a start as she saw the ruin of her right hand. She pressed it back against the wound below her breasts and settled on tossing her head to move her hair out of her eyes. "This is over; right here, as of now, it's finished." Her dark eyes gleamed as she raked them all with her gaze; even the most hostile members of the gathering found themselves looking elsewhere rather than meet that stare. "Okay then. By sunup, I'll be out of here. And I know, by this time next week, somebody will have taken over everything these guys were doing." A few people shifted uneasily; probably they had already had thoughts in that direction, or knew people who would be moving into the sudden vacuum. Faith bared her teeth in a smile, surprising Scott and some others.
"I know it's going to happen, and that's okay. Somebody's always going to be doing that stuff. But-" Her teeth were still showing, flashing white in the near-darkness, but she was no longer smiling. "If anything happens to Scott, or to any of his people, I'll be upset. I'll be coming back through here, in a few weeks, or a month; a year at the most. And if I see someone trying to pull what these people were doing, if they think that torture and murder is just part of doing business…." She didn't move a muscle, but several of the most dangerous people in the crowd suddenly shrank back from the sheer lethality she seemed to radiate… and then as suddenly as that, she was just a girl, again. She looked down at the sword she was leaning on, and shook her head.
"Okay, enough of that. Get out of here."
She spoke so quietly that the words were nearly lost, but those gathered there lost no time in taking themselves elsewhere. Scott and the others soon found themselves alone with the girl who had fought their war for them, and won.
Hesitantly, he moved to where she still stood.
She cocked her head slightly, but didn't look up. Her eyes were on a bare patch of concrete, looking at something he couldn't see.
"Yeah, Scott. What is it?"
The pain and weariness in her voice nearly broke his heart; there was so much blood on her, and he'd seen her hand when she'd raised it into the light. What could he say? How could he begin to thank her for what she'd done; for the impossible, awful thing he'd asked her to do?
"I just-I mean I wanted to tell you…." He felt the others standing at his shoulder, but none of them could speak either. Just looking at her, seeing what looked like enough damage to kill her twice over, and she'd still had the strength to carry through for them….
She did look up then, her pale face looking like it was carved from marble. She was beautiful, and terrible, and frightening and unnatural… and she'd done what he had asked, and destroyed the evil that would have consumed them all. Her gaze took in the group of them standing there, and she nodded in understanding.
Just that, and it was done. Moving stiffly, limping even with the sword she was using to support herself, she walked past them.
"Did anybody see where my knife landed?" George, a tall, gangly young man who'd lost two brothers to the Storm in the last few months pointed off towards one of the burned-out cars.
"I thought I saw something fall over there, earlier."
He headed that way, but Faith waved him back, limping in that direction.
"I'll get it; nobody else touches that thing. If they do, then whatever happens is not my fault."
Scott walked alongside her, wondering if she would be able to make it without his help.
"Faith; if there's anything else you need before you go, just tell me, okay?"
She nodded agreeably.
"Okay, here's some things right now." He blinked, then shrugged. Anything she asked, he would try to do; how could he not, all things considered? "First, send somebody with a light inside that building. I left my gun sitting on a shelf in that big room on the top floor, and I want it back. There should be some more ammo for it in a little room with no doorknob, on the first floor; I want that too."
He turned and waved for George to come over.
"That's easy enough. Anything else?"
She drew to a halt, tucking the sword into the crook of her arm, then crouching down to pick up a gleaming object from where it lay on the shadowy ground.
"Yeah. I'll need a ride to your grandmother's shop. I need to see Alex and Kelly before I go."
He took a deep breath, then blew it out. His friend had made it quite clear that he had no wish to see Faith again.
"Okay, I can do that. Anything else?"
She'd put her knife away and turned back to face the building looming over them. He watched as grim satisfaction warred with a look that was very much like regret. After a moment it was gone, vanished so completely that he was uncertain he'd seen it at all.
"One more thing. When your guy goes upstairs, ask him to look for something to put this in." She lifted the Katanna, and the faint light from the moon overhead gleamed along its length, making it almost appear to be glowing a soft silvery-gray. Scott frowned. Hadn't that blade been a dull, non-reflective black during her duel with Akamori? It certainly wasn't now. Faith turned it slightly, admiring the soft shimmer that ran up and down the perfect blade. "The old owner won't be needing anything like this anymore, I think."
"Are you sure that's such a good idea?" Scott ran his eyes over her savaged body. "I mean, just look at you! Some of that is from that sword, right?"
She laid the weapon back across her shoulder, the blunt side down, and gave him a weary little smile. "You know something, Scott? This thing is just a hunk of sharp metal. It didn't hurt me because it was evil; that's just all it knows how to do." She sighed, looking down at herself. "But just because something is a weapon, that doesn't mean that it can't do some good in the world. It'd be a shame to throw it away before it gets that chance, don't you think?"
She raised the blade, and took an experimental cut with it. The air parted before that shining edge, and from a distant bank of clouds, a silvery flash momentarily drove back the darkness. Long moments later, a rumble of thunder muttered and grumbled, but those gathered around the broken citadel paid it no heed.
They no longer had cause to fear the storm.
* * * * *