Disclaimer: See beginning of story.
Authors note: Thanks for the reviews, and keep them coming, please!
Joyce’s team rushes through the broken doors of the library and look around to see the huge mess and the bus in the wall. Willow whines, “Oh great. How are we going to explain this to Snyder?”
Miss Calendar looks up at the team and smiles, “You made it!”
“How long ago did this happen?” questions Joyce quickly.
The computer teacher answers, “About half an hour ago.”
Joyce glances at Harmony and Willow before saying slowly, “That’s about the time we were hit. It was an ambush.”
Amy gestures to the bus with her thumb and grunts, “Ditto.”
Harmony asks, “Why didn’t you call for help?”
“We couldn’t,” Kendra states.
Joyce frowns, “You were jammed too?”
Miss Calendar nods and replies, “Yes. Even the landlines were down.”
“How’d something like this happen?” Willow asks, slightly in shock.
Joyce says slowly, “Either we’ve been watched very carefully without us knowing, which is highly unlikely; or someone in our ranks has been giving them information.”
“We think it might be Warren,” says Faith from the doorway. They turn to see Angel leaning against Faith, both of them covered in small injuries.
“Warren?” asks Joyce. “What makes you think he is behind this?”
Faith growls, “Let me think really hard! I think it might be the fact that we just fought a vampire who could use ninjutsu, fought like a ninja, had a curse mark on him, and was able to go a second stage of curse mark before he escaped.”
Willow tilts her head curiously and says, “Second stage?”
Amy grips her flute tighter and whispers, “Oh no.” She sits down and stares at her flute while trying to gather her thoughts.
“You know about this, Amy?” Joyce inquires, glancing over at the stunned girl.
Amy frowns darkly, “The curse seal has two stages. At first stage, the person gets covered in black shapes, which some of you have seen. In the second stage, the person’s skin changes color and unique features appear depending on who you are. The longer you use the curse mark, the more enslaved to Orochimaru’s will you are. It slowly erodes your soul away the longer it is activated. At the first level, it can turn a Genin level ninja to high Chunin in abilities, speed, and strength. Depending at what level you already are and who you are will determine how high the boost is.”
“What about the second level?” Willow asks quickly.
Amy stares at her coldly, “Anywhere from a special Jonin to high Jonin, maybe even Kage level. You don’t want to be around when someone goes second stage.”
Harmony says loudly, “Kage level?”
“The highest ranking member of the Sound Five who was going to be Orochimaru’s new vessel, which was passed by because of a terminal illness, could at second stage give the Kazekage or Hokage a run for their money! He even assisted Orochimaru in killing the Fourth Kazekage for the invasion,” responds Amy. Kendra nods slowly while Harmony and Sakura exchange surprised glances.
Joyce states, “This could be a problem if there are more people with the second stage curse mark out there.”
Sakura looks at the flute-wielding girls suspiciously. “You were one of Orochimaru’s bodyguards? Does that mean you have the second stage curse mark too?”
Amy levels a glare at the redhead and retorts, “I haven’t used it since Halloween. Giles put a seal on it so that it won’t activate unless in life and death circumstances.”
“Warren went as Orochimaru. Why doesn’t he remove it?” Kendra inquires.
Rolling her eyes, Amy drawls with her voice dripping with sarcasm, “Well, I’m sure that Orochimaru spent years developing ways to take off the mark that makes people into his devote slaves and easier to control. After all, why wouldn’t he want people to be completely under his control, right?” When Kendra shrugs, Amy continues, “Orochimaru wouldn’t have done something like that. But, even if Warren has been working on a way to remove it, the overabundance of volunteers…all three of us, makes the work very quick, especially when the removal of it could kill us.”
“You have a point,” Kendra concedes quietly.
Amy says, “Giles and I already mentioned it to Warren, and he said he’d look into a way to remove the seal. He said that it would probably be unwise to just remove it right away without intensive study on the subject. Also, it would be pretty stupid to remove a volatile power source, however corrupt, from our allies when living on the Hellmouth where we might need it someday. Not only that, but if he messed up even slightly in his calculations, it could leave us either one man down or possibly unable to use chakra. The curse mark is interwoven with chakra and more or less superpowers it into whatever it needs.”
“Like chakra steroids?” Miss Calendar inquires.
Amy smirks, “Basically.”
“While this is good intel, we need to get back on the subject of Warren,” Angel reminds them from a chair where he’s resting.
Joyce frowns, “We’ll call a meeting in the morning…” She notices Faith about to say something and continues quickly, “No, Faith, we are not going to kill, maim, torture, or otherwise dismember him.” Faith sighs and Joyce inserts, “At least, not right away.” Faith’s grin comes back in full force, making Willow and Harmony shiver from the bloodlust leaking off of her. Joyce says, “We’ll call the teams in early and have Warren arrive an hour or two afterwards so we have some time to talk about it and set up any necessary preparations in case he is the guilty party.” She glares at Angel with some killer intent radiating off of her, “Warren will be the only member of the ninjas that will be late. Right, Angel?” He smiles weakly and looks like he’s about to shrug when the killer intent doubles. The former vampire quickly nods in agreement. “One more thing before we go home for the night,” she says. The group looks at her curiously. “I interrogated a demon that attacked us. They were working with the Order of Tekara to take us out. He said that they were hired by a vampire named James.” She looks over at Faith and Angel.
Faith growls, “I am going to kill him!”
Angel simply nods and murmurs, “That’s what I thought.”
“I thought you said you took care of him,” Joyce states. “This is the same James, isn’t it?”
Angel scratches the back of his head nervously and smiles, “Well…it’s a long story…”
“Yeah, he let the little weasel go,” Faith snaps. “I don’t know what history those two had, but next time, I am going to tear out that little blood sucker’s liver and shove it through his ear! Then I’ll take his kidney and stick it through his arm. Then I’ll…” and she rambles on about all the different things she is going to do with various body parts when she eventually gets her hands on him again, several of which make the other ninjas turn green at the descriptions.
Angel sighs, “Yep. She’s definitely Anko.”
Harmony says in a mysterious tone, “She’s channeling her inner Anko.”
“That’s okay, Harmony,” grins Faith evilly. “You always channel your inner Ino perfectly.”
“Thanks…wait a second! Is that an insult?” Harmony screeches. Faith smirks and ignores her.
Willow mumbles under her breath, “Got it in one, Harmony-pig. Amazing.”
Miss Calendar ignores the blonde’s rambling and says calmly, “I found the Order of Tekara’s rings on the corpses. I matched it with the computer records and they’re a match. The Order of Tekara is out for our heads. Not that they’ll be very successful,” she steals a glance at the still rambling Harmony. She murmurs under her breath, “Though some heads should be taken, if I do say so myself.”
“Thank you for that information, Shizune,” Joyce smiles. She thinks, ‘You think you got it bad, Calendar? I’m training the girl!’
Angel says slowly while he gazes at the rings in Miss Calendar’s hand, “I think that two or three of the demons and vampires we were fighting were sent by the Order.”
Faith frowns and stares down at them for a few long seconds before announcing, “Yep! Those were on Whippy and Trigger-happy!”
“Whippy and Trigger-happy?” inquires Joyce with a raised eyebrow.
Faith grins, “They didn’t give out their names, so I had to come up with some that fit them! What else could I do?”
Joyce just stares at her for a little while before looking away and murmuring something about wishing she could have a talk with Ibiki about his apprentices. “Anyways,” Joyce says loud enough for everyone to hear, “Here is what we’re going to do for tomorrow…”
The Next Day:
Warren walks into the library at 8 o’clock sharp for the meeting while quickly paging through a file that he’s holding. He looks up at the group just in time to see Oz raising his hand. “Huh?” he says quietly. Suddenly, sand gathers from the floor and encases him in a solid coffin leaving only his head exposed. Amy forms a hand sign and a three wall barrier activates around him. “Uh…if this is about the prank radio calls, Jonathan put me up to it!”
“This isn’t about the prank calls, Warren,” Joyce states coldly. “Wait! That was you?”
“It was Andrew too!” he says quickly.
She glances between the two boys and answers, “We’ll deal with that later.” She looks back at Warren with hard eyes.
“So what did I miss?” Warren says with a nervous smile.
Oz intones, “Can I crush him now?”
“Not yet,” Joyce responds. Warren gulps hard.
Faith snaps, “You can’t crush him! I get to…” and once again, the ramble begins. Joyce quickly cuts it off.
“What did I do!?” Warren practically shouts from his restraints.
“Ah yes!” Joyce smiles with a very scary calmness to her voice. “There seems to be a vampire running around Sunnydale.”
“And this is unusual because…?” he says slowly.
Joyce frowns, “He used a second stage curse mark.”
“Oh, that’s all…What?!” Warren exclaims with wide eyes. “How did a vampire get a curse seal, let alone a second stage?”
Faith grinds out, “We were hoping to torture it out of you.”
“She means that she was hoping you could tell us,” Joyce corrects. “Oh! Did I forget to mention that he could use ninja techniques?”
Warren says dryly, “I think you might have skipped over that part.”
“Anything, to say for yourself before I remove everything that makes you a man?” Faith growls while spinning a kunai between her fingers. Cordelia rolls her eyes at the other girl’s antics, twirling two shuriken between her fingers.
Warren says hesitantly, “Well…there are only a few options on how he could have gotten it. #1, he could have had that tattoo on his neck during Halloween but we missed him…”
Angel frowns, “Impossible. He wasn’t here during Halloween and didn’t have it when he showed up the first time.”
“First time? Angel, don’t tell me you let one get away!” Warren groans. At Angel’s glare, he sighs, “You did. Well, the second choice is that there is another Orochimaru running around. There could have been more than one set of costumes that we know of! The third choice is that Orochimaru somehow downloaded himself down into another body before Halloween was over. My memories of his possession from that night are fairly vague. The fourth choice is that I really am Orochimaru and I am fooling you all!” He lets out an evil chuckle that sounds exactly like the Snake Sannin. He quickly stops his laughing when the sand constricts around him tightly. He weezes, “That was a joke! I’m Warren, not the Snake Man!”
Oz intones, “Can I kill him now?”
“Not yet,” Joyce replies again.
Warren sighs in relief and continues, “But, the fifth choice is that he is somehow still inside of me but that I am completely unaware of his presence. He could take over when I go to sleep, but that is highly unlikely.”
Giles inserts, “The sixth choice is that Ethan is out selling anime costumes elsewhere and arranged for another Orochimaru to be made, if not going as Orochimaru himself.”
Joyce turns to Giles and replies, “He came up with many of the same possibilities that we did. Now all we have to do is figure out which one it is.”
Faith grins sadistically while holding up a kunai, “I can help with that!”
“Unfortunately, yes, we will need your help since Ibiki isn’t here,” Joyce answers.
Faith grins wider, “Don’t worry! I’ll make sure he’s alive throughout the entire process. All the way, up to the very end.”
Giles sighs, “Only because we’ll be there. Didn’t Ibiki train you?”
“Oh yes indeed,” cackles Faith evilly. “Now, for some field experience!”
Joyce states, “You’ll follow my orders exactly. No more, no less. Got it?”
“Yes, ma’am,” she grumbles. “Party pooper,” she mumbles under her breath.
Joyce glances at her sharply, “I heard that.”
“My profoundest apologies, Lady Summers,” Faith retorts sarcastically. “Can I start now?”
“I want Giles, myself, Faith, Angel, Amy, and Oz to stay behind for the interrogation. Everyone else, out,” Joyce orders.
Spike scowls at being left out of what he would consider fun as both Zabuza and a vampire, but decides to let it go without a fuss. He heads for the door with Drusilla close behind him. The rest of the ninjas file out after them.
Two Hours Later:
The group waits outside of the library until Faith walks out with a disappointed look on her face. “You can come back in,” she grumbles. “He’s still alive.” They slowly wander back into the library to see Warren. The dark haired Sanin looks completely worn out sitting in a chair. Amy drops the barrier around him and the sand retracts from around him. Joyce slowly heals a large scrape on his hand while cuts and bruises cover any exposed skin he has.
Angel leans against a wall reading a small book. Buffy glances over his shoulder on the way in to make sure it’s nothing perverted. He sighs, “Don’t you trust me?”
“Always, love. Just make sure I never have a reason to burn any of your reading material,” Buffy responds cheerfully while patting him on the cheek, both lovingly and warningly. He looks confused but goes back to his book.
Spike smirks while he visually inspects the worn out boy. “I assume from the lack of body parts and the fact that he’s still breathing that he’s clean?”
“He’s clean,” Giles replies. “However, we’ll still be keeping an eye on him.”
Drusilla tilts her head curiously, “Why would we do that if he’s not guilty?”
“Because while they have determined that Orochimaru is not in control of his body right now, they cannot rule out that he might still be inside of him somewhere. The interrogation techniques and any memory scans will not help because the memories of Orochimaru while inhabiting Warren’s body during Halloween and the information Warren absorbed from the experience is too closely mixed together to tell them apart. No matter who the techniques are used on in this group, the results would be the same because we were all possessed,” Tara states condescendingly while glaring at Drusilla. “Any good ninja knows that!”
Andrew pipes up, “I didn’t know that!”
“I rest my case,” Tara smirks.
Andrew shouts, “Hey!” He quickly shuts up when her hand moves to her sword’s hilt.
Joyce frowns, “Enough, Tara.”
She bows quickly, “Yes, Lady Summers.”
Joyce sighs but continues, “Thank you for the analysis. That saves time. As she said, Warren isn’t Orochimaru, but there might be another one. We’ll have to keep an eye out for the other one. Considering his knowledge of us, any enemies from here on out might be exceptionally dangerous.”
Oz says quietly, “Does this mean that I can’t crush him?”
“Correct,” Amy says. His eyes darken and the sand slowly retracts from around his feet into the gourd, swishing about the container angrily. “Unless he proves himself to really be Orochimaru, then you can crush him into atoms.” The sand stops swishing while Oz’s face remains the same.
Warren stares warily at Oz. “I’m not Orochimaru. You do realize that, right?”
Oz glances at him, “We’ll see.”
“Anyways,” Warren says, looking at the others, “Can I have my folder back?” Larry hands it to him from a nearby seat. “In light of what just happened,” Warren says while opening the folder.
Joyce interrupts, “Are you sure you want to present these now, Warren?”
“It is the best time while I am still mostly out of suspicion,” Warren replies.
Xander drawls, “Wow! That really puts my mind at ease. You might be Orochimaru despite what the tests say. Orochimaru is a Sanin, after all. Plus, you’re trying to give us things to help us, which if you are Orochimaru, have some sort of weakness that you can exploit at a moment’s notice. How reassuring…not.”
Warren smirks, “Did it ever occur to you that if I tell you now, it’ll give you all time to discover any weaknesses and counter it?”
Xander thinks for a long moment and replies, “Yeah, whatever.”
Warren looks down at the paper-filled folder. “I got this idea from that robot Ted.” Dawn grins while Joyce stares at her warningly. “We never know when we’re going to need back up, especially with these weird enemies lately. I thought of a faster way to get our numbers up since training will take years! You can come in now!” Four figures in black ninja outfits leap through the back entrance to the library, armed with two ninja pouches on their belts, kunai holsters on each of their legs.
Jonathan glances at their weapons and each of them. “Nun chucks, a bo staff, sais, and twin swords. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles minus the turtles?”
“Isn’t it great?” Warren grins.
Harmony rolls her eyes and mutters, “Oh brother. Nerds. What’s so special about them?”
“I’m so glad you asked!” Warren continues cheerfully. They pull off their masks with a snap of his fingers to show human faces. “These are my new ninja bots!”
Jonathan raises an eyebrow, “Ninja robots?”
Andrew cheers, “This is so cool!”
“I know,” Warren smirks proudly.
Harmony leans forward on the table, “Like I said, what’s so special about them?”
“#1, they are as strong as or stronger than vampires. #2, they are more agile than most vampires. #3, they are for sure as fast as vampires. #4, they have been programmed in the ninja arts and are completely loyal to us!” Warren finishes. “Aren’t I awesome?”
“No,” Buffy states. He nearly anime face vaults, but realizes how painful that would be, catching himself in midair.
Andrew says loudly, “You mean they can do ninjutsu?”
“No!” scowls Warren. “You need chakra for ninjutsu. Though, I am looking into ways for them to use electricity in place of ninjutsu! They are mainly taijutsu and weapons masters.”
“Like Bushy Brows!” exclaims Andrew. “I mean, Rock Lee!”
“Exactly,” replies Warren.
Cordelia states coldly, “While he was my teammate, if you group me with him again in comparisons, I am going to turn you into a pincushion.”
“I wasn’t even thinking about you!” Warren retorts.
Cordelia practically growls, “Are you saying that you were talking about weapons masters and you weren’t thinking about me?”
Warren raises an eyebrow, “Um…no, not really.”
Cordelia snaps, “That does it! Die!” She jumps into the air and pulls out two scrolls. She shouts, “Rising Twin Dragons!”
Warren’s eyes grow wide and he shouts, “What is this? Her period?!”
Buffy sighs and pulls out her giant fan. She throws a strong gust of wind at her, knocking Cordelia and her scrolls back into the wall. “While it would be fun to watch him run for his life for the next hour, Cordy, we don’t have the time,” Buffy says loud enough for her to hear. “Continue, snake boy.”
“Thank you, I think,” he says as his face slowly regains its color. “As I was saying, they are taijutsu and weapons masters, plus they can keep an eye on things while we are asleep since they don’t need any rest. Every month they’ll need a recharge and a maintenance checkup, but that’s all. If we send them out to kill something or to patrol, they won’t return until the creature is dead or they are too damaged to continue their mission. One last thing: they have internal radios, cameras, and GPS systems. They can communicate with us, send us pictures, and show their position at any time from anywhere. I hope to have more out soon.”
Kendra raises an eyebrow, “Cool.”
Joyce says, “Good job. You had something else to show them?”
Warren clears his throat and says slowly, “As the ambush of the Order of Tekara against Tsunade’s team has aptly shown, none of us are invincible and are in danger of someday meeting an enemy who can kill or mortally wound us. With Tsunade’s permission, I have been looking into a way to combat that possibility. Cloning. Using my body switching research and other genetic studies that Orochimaru has done in the past, I am on the road to perfecting a way to transfer any of our minds to the body of our clones, which will be identical to the ones you have now in every way. Of course, the new bodies will take some time to get used to and break in, but it shouldn’t take more than a month or two to adjust. That is the maximum time it will take, if all goes well.”
“Smart, but it’s still dangerous,” Willow points out.
Warren glares at her, “Isn’t everything we do dangerous? That’s why I said I’m on the road to perfecting it! It’s not complete yet. Also, may I remind you where we are right now? We are sitting literally on top of a Hellmouth! We need every advantage that we can get.”
“That is true. This room is directly on top of the opening of the Hellmouth,” Giles inserts calmly. “By the way, Warren, because of the undergoing investigation on this Orochimaru character, we’re going to have to post a team to watch you at night to check, out your laboratory, and to make sure you don’t go anywhere to meet with our enemies, on the off chance that you are Orochimaru. You will also need to turn over all your notes to us so that we know what you are doing.”
Warren sighs and grumbles with a dark expression on his face, “I know. I know.”
Harmony says, “Hey! Does that mean more work for me?”
“With that attitude,” Joyce answers with a slowly growing smile. “Consider it part of your training.” Harmony groans as her forehead hits the table.
Giles leans over and whispers to Joyce, “Weren’t you going to have her and Willow do that work anyways?”
“Don’t spoil it,” Joyce whispers back with a grin. She says loud enough for everyone to hear, “I think we should wind up the meeting for today. We’ll give out the schedule for how we’re going to arrange everything with Warren’s work in a week or so. Also, since Warren quite accurately pointed out that we need to expand our numbers, I want you all to be on the lookout for people who might be good candidates for ninja training. Lastly, we’ve made new forehead protectors for all of us to show that we’re all part of one organization.”
Miss Calendar brings in a box and starts distributing the headbands. Xander glances over the forehead protector to see a circle with the leaf village, sand village, sound village, mist village, and rock village symbols inside of it. “As you can see,” Joyce says, “It has all of our village symbols. It’ll symbolize that we’re united, despite the different villages that we hail from. Nobody will be able to break this unity.”
“Not bad,” Larry comments before he ties the headband on.
Joyce calls out, “Anything else before we leave?” When nobody says anything, she states, “Dismissed.”
While everyone starts leaving, Jonathan approaches Joyce. “Mrs. Summers, in light of what has happened, I would like to increase Dawn’s Hyuga training.”
“Do it,” Joyce responds. “Would an extra hour do?”
“It would,” Jonathan nods. He bows slightly and leaves.
Giles walks up behind her and Joyce says, “Do you think this will be enough for what’s coming?”
The librarian states, “It’ll have to do. We are only human.”