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Way of the Warrior

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This story is No. 2 in the series "The Heart of the Dragon". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Xander has embraced the Iron Fist, becoming the Immortal Weapon of K'un-L'un. But, with that come new challenges, and old ones. Sequel to Like a Thing Unto Iron.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Marvel Universe > Marvel Knights
Television > Law and Order
Television > Sons of Anarchy
neoolongFR1814143,74794127,57112 Dec 089 Aug 09Yes

Chapter Nine: Splinter of the Mind's Eye

The servant girl had been right.  K’un-L’un had its secrets.  Kept by those that sought power.  Kept by those that sought freedom.  And those that sought to walk the right path.  Which is what led the Iron Fist to this particular reflecting pool in that particular garden in the Capital City of Heaven.

Xander sat with his legs crossed, his hands on his knees, in an ancient position he had recently learned.  He was controlling his breathing, feeling every part of him.  He could feel his chi flow through him, every part of his body connected into one whole.  His eyes were closed, but he could see the pool in front of him.  Lily pads and soft white lotus flowers drifted on the surface despite the time of year.

A single drop of water defied gravity and floated upward, growing larger until it was the size of a baseball.  It was perfectly round, though it did not present a reflection of what was around.  Inside swirled chaos, as the Iron Fist, though in control of his body, was not in total control of his mind.

Furrowing his brow, the Iron Fist tried to concentrate, the Scrying Vessel of Bo-Ling not working in accordance to what he had learned about its properties.  Although, he supposed that it was his doing.  The seeing pool would not work without purity of conscience. 

He tried to concentrate on the future, those of his friends as well as those of the citizens that he represented.  The outcome of the Tournament did not fill his thoughts; more pressing matters were the focus of his questions instead.  He whispered aloud, to himself as well as to the winds of fate, “What should I do?  What do I need to do?”

The ball of water rippled, distorting the image and shifting to a new one.  Xander could only see it in his mind’s eye as he tried to make order of it.  The images came faster and faster; a jumble that he tried furiously to understand.

He saw a train, built in the snowy mountains of China.  He saw the face of a Chinese man he did not recognize, but he could see schemes and intricate plans that spanned back centuries.  A face among many; if one was struck down, another would take its place.  He saw Davos, in league with this foe that aligned itself with HYDRA.  And finally the Iron Fist, connected to them all.

Xander’s eyes shot open, some glimmer of understanding of events in them.  He whispered sadly though, “Orson.”

“Xander,” Lei-Kung said, as the Iron Fist stood up and turned around.

The Iron Fist looked at the man that had approached.  “I didn’t hear you.”

“No one ever does,” the Thunderer stated.  “Did you find what you were looking for?”

“I…I don’t know,” Xander admitted.  Some of what he had seen was still jumbled.  The Iron Fist he had seen in his vision had blurred between his mentor and him.  He knew that both Iron Fists would have and did have a role to play in the events that were to come.  But, even knowing some of what the future held did not mean that he knew what future would occur.   “I saw…I saw things.  Davos, working with a man named Xao.  And HYDRA.  A plan.  Regarding this city.”

“Xao,” Lei-Kung repeated, frowning slightly.  The name was not unknown to him.  “Did you recognize him?”

Xander shook his head.  “No, and I don’t know exactly what they’re planning.  This isn’t helping.  I don’t know if what I’m seeing is real or if it’s just supposed to mean something.”

“There are always dangers in utilizing methods such as this.” Lei-Kung waved an arm at the reflecting pool.  The water had already stilled from the disruption caused by its use.  “Take care that in your haste you do not create the very future that you wish to avoid.”

“But what about-“ Xander started to say.

“Give it time,” the Thunderer stated, starting to turn to the entrance of the garden.  “There is another fight, and you would do this city dishonor if you did not appear.”

xxx

Amy looked at her notes again, comparing them to the book that she had open on the table in front of her.  She had never tried that particular spell before, so she wanted to ensure that she made no mistakes.  Buffy had called a short time before, asking where she was, and she wanted to make sure that that interruption had not affected her work.

The witch picked up a measuring cup and poured in half a cup of red sand.  It was some type of magic sand, given to her by Ms. Calendar she remembered, but she focused on the job at hand rather than where her teacher and her friend were.

She poured it into a large white porcelain mortar, tapping the metal cup on the edge to get all of the sand out.  Looking at the instructions again, Amy picked up a glass bowl filled with green sand and poured another half cup in her measuring cup.  That went into the mortar as well.  Going back and forth between her notes and the different piles of ingredients in front of her, the young witch put in the rest of the material.  A few leaves of dried figwort, clovers, and other ingredients went in.

Before she was able to pick up the pestle and start mixing and grinding the concoction, she heard the reverberating echo of a knock on the metal door of the warehouse.  Amy frowned and then sighed, getting up out of her seat and walking to the door.  She glanced at a monitor that had been set next to the door, seeing that it was Buffy and Willow outside.  It wasn’t really a surprise given the Slayer’s earlier call.

Amy undid the locks and let the two girls inside.  She led them back to the table that she had been working at, noticing that they looked intently at what she had been doing.

“What’s up?” Amy asked, picking up a pen and marking down where she had left off on her notepad.  She placed a cloth over the mortar, in order to ensure that nothing went in that she wasn’t aware of.  Magic could be extraordinarily finicky.

“We wanted to see what you doing,” Buffy replied, looking intently at the various ingredients strewn about the table.  Despite the mystical origins of her abilities, she wasn’t up on the magic side of things.  Certainly not in terms of actual spellwork.

Amy looked up at her.  “Just a little magic.”

“Really, what does it do?” Willow asked inquisitively.  Most of the magic that they had needed done was being done by the Giles and her classmate.  It still seemed a little strange to see it in action.

“I’ve been doing the research on the Casket,” Amy explained, turning to face her.  “I’m thinking that I found a spell that can destroy it.  I want Ms. Calendar’s opinion first, but I was doing the prep work for it to save time.  Gives me something to do while they’re…while they’re away.”

“Did you ask Giles?” Willow asked, looking over at the witch.  She couldn’t make heads or tails of what Amy was doing. 

Amy shrugged.  “I know where Giles stands on this.  I can handle it myself.  It’s just a recipe after all.”

Willow just stared at her.  “But, it’s Giles.”

Amy smiled at the protest.  “I know.  I also know what I’m doing.”

“You don’t trust him?” Buffy asked, somewhat aggressively.  He was her Watcher after all.

The witch shook her head.  “I didn’t say that.  But, we have a difference of opinion.  And, well, I did buy it after all.  If I want to wait, then that’s what we’re going to do.  No offense.”

Buffy just frowned, not liking Amy’s justification.  She didn’t like the fact that Amy was right either.  It was Amy’s call to make, but she didn’t like that she was going against Giles.  That she did at times as well was beside the matter.  Wanting a night off to go on a date was different from keeping some powerful mystical object to oneself.  It could be dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands.  Even Amy admitted that much.

Amy could read the conflict on the Slayer’s face.  “Are you trying to argue this?”

Buffy looked at her, and then shook her head.  They had long concluded that there was no point in arguing about it.  “No.  I just…what did Xander say about the Watchers.” 

xxx

Xander shifted in his seat slightly, looking into the arena.  He watched as those involved in the match at hand walked into the center of the arena.  It had already been repaired, evidence of his battle long since cleaned up.  The workers in the Heart of Heaven were nothing if not efficient.

He recognized the referee of the match; it was Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter’s head retainer. 

“This holy festival of combat continues to reveal its undefeated contender!” the woman shouted, her voice amplified for those farthest away from the arena center.  “Who will stalk the world of men?  Dog Brother #1 versus Bride of Nine Spiders!”

The crowd roared into applause, different parts of the audience rooting for the Immortal Weapon that they wanted to win.

Xander watched in anticipation as the woman climbed the staircase to the top of her observation platform. 

She raised her hands and faced the crowds.  “Go!”

“Watch carefully, Xander,” Lei-Kung remarked, leaning to his left and looking over towards Xander.  It went without saying that the two Immortal Weapons currently locked in combat had vastly more experience than the new Iron Fist did.

Xander watched as Dog Brother #1 drew one of his swords, holding it out in front of him in a defensive position.  He looked wary, as if expecting the Bride to attack aggressively.  Turning his attention to the Bride, he noticed that she reached to the black lacy shirt she had on and ripped it away.

He was confused, rather than titillated, at what was underneath.  Instead of what he knew should be there, were instead pale strands of flesh stringing together what was inside an odd cavity that was the woman’s chest.  Instead of organs and muscles and a rib cage was a mass of black objects that seemed to writhe around inside of her.  Black stains started to run up the edge of the gaping hole and up her skin to her collarbone.

His concentration on that made him miss that, in a blink of an eye, Bride of Nine Spiders’ eyes had turned pure black.

The Thunderer concentrated on the whole picture, knowing what was to come.  He knew that the Bride was no delicate porcelain flower.  Just as he knew what was about to happen.  “The Black Milk of Hell.”

Xander glanced at Lei-Kung, wondering exactly what move had such a foreboding name.  He clenched his jaw as the Bride let out a ragged gasp, chilling to the bone.  Her chest exploded outward, a mass of spiders erupting and making its way towards Dog Brother #1.  “What the hell?”

Dog Brother #1 backed away as the mass of spiders came for him.  “Devil woman!  Demon Bride!”

He did not let the spiders deter him, though he felt the pain as they clawed and bit at him.  He did not allow the spider venom to slow his nerves as he rushed forward, swinging his sword ferociously.  The Razor Dervish Attack – Ultimate pushed the spiders back in a flash of steel, his sword barely visible with its magnificent speed.  He growled, his eyes turning white and fangs appearing in his mouth.  “I fear you not!”

“Je je je je je je je je,” the Bride of Nine Spiders laughed inhumanely, directing her spiders mentally.  They swept forth in a wave, engulfing her opponent in black sea of arachnids.  Soon all that could be seen were his head and his right hand and sword.

Xander watched it all without comment, beginning to realize that the power of the Immortal Weapons did not come merely from the martial abilities of the individual fighters.  There was much more, in ways that he could not fully comprehend.

Gritting his teeth, Dog Brother #1 pushed his way forward, feeling the massive moving wall try to freeze him in his place.  “I am a pack nine thousand strong!”

The Immortal Weapon rushed forward, refusing to be distracted by the swarm.  He headed directly for the queen, grabbing her and tackling her through one of the windows that lined the stone walls of the arena.

“He is taking the fight to her,” the Thunderer remarked, knowing that the two now fought in some other dimension, phase-shifted as to not appear in that realm.  “Tactically brilliant.  And his greatest strength.  We shall see if it is enough.”

Xander barely heard the words as he concentrated on the fight.  He could see the dogs and strays that made up Dog Brother #1’s entourage stare at the broken window intently.  The Iron Fist could just see into it, noticing what looked like wild bushes and trees in a jungle of some sort.

It did not take long.

“Arroooo!” one of the dogs cried out, head pointed towards the heaven, his eyes closed in sadness.  The howling call was picked up by the rest of the pack, canine and human.  It was clear to see what had happened.

The referee did not waste time.  She stepped forward on her platform and faced the crowd.  “These familiars finish the tale.  The Bride of Nine Spiders wins.  Tomorrow’s match sees Crane Champion against Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter.”

“How do you defend against that,” Xander whispered to himself.  “How do you defeat that?”

Lei-Kung just looked at the boy.  How indeed?

xxx

Amy looked at the Slayer, wondering exactly how she should phrase her answer.  Buffy was her friend after all.  And she’d rather not hurt her unduly.  “It wasn’t any one thing.  But, Xander and Ms. Calendar just felt that they didn’t know what the other Council members were like, and didn’t know how much they could be trusted.”

Buffy nodded, encouraging her to go on.

“That’s…that’s why they went to see Vi after all.  I mean, they didn’t say it exactly, but I think they were worried about how Vi was being raised,” Amy continued, a little nervous.  “And, that’s because they didn’t know how Nancy was.  I don’t think that it necessarily mattered that she turned out to be okay.  I mean, we know Kendra didn’t have the most open childhood.  That might not even be the worst of it, but we don’t know that.”

“So that’s what Xander was doing that weekend,” Willow blurted out, eyes wide in understanding.  She shifted her attention to what else the witch had said.  “But, Giles is okay.  And there’s Buffy’s original Watcher.”

Amy shrugged.  “It’s why I don’t know what to do.  And why I want to wait.  Maybe Giles is right and we should give the Casket to the Council.  But, maybe Xander’s right not to trust them, and then I don’t know.  I just want to be ready to do something when he gets back.”

It was all the explanation that could be given.  And Buffy and Willow, and ultimately Giles, would have to accept that.

Willow sighed, looking down.  She wasn’t sure who was right in the situation, and the more she was a part of things, the more certain she was that things weren’t always going to be clear cut.  “I guess we’re going to wait for Xander to get back.”

She missed her oldest friend, and while this made her longing for his return to occur all the stronger, she had never forgotten that he had left.  And why.  “Do you need any help?”

Amy just looked at the materials that were still on the table.  It was something of a mess.  She shrugged.  “I’m almost done.  You can help on cleanup if you want to.  Buffy?”

Buffy jumped a little, her mind having wandered, going over what Amy had said.  “Yeah…I guess.”

xxx

“-the technique, the level of confidence…excellent,” the Thunderer complimented Bride of Nine Spiders as they stood in the crowded pavilion.  He had to raise his voice slightly to make himself heard over the merrymaking that was occurring around them.  Not to mention the masked musicians playing instruments and wandering throughout.

Xander said nothing as he stood next to him.  Instead he concentrated on the woman that had just won her first match.  It was a little unnerving to be so close to her.

“Do you seek to mock me, Thunderer?” Bride of Nine Spiders asked, her voice oddly atonal.  She had replaced her shirt, once more looking like a corpse-pale woman.  It didn’t help.

A man in a ragged brown robe approached them.  “You should know Lei-Kung does not give false praise, Bride.  Your skills were impressive.”

“Prince of Orphans,” the Bride said, acknowledging the other Weapon’s presence.  She turned to include him in the group as well.  “Perhaps, then, you’ll feel the same when we do battle.”

The Prince of Orphans merely looked at her.  He spoke bluntly, “I certainly hope not.”

“Je je je je je je je je,” the Bride of Nine Spiders chuckled to herself.  She started to walk away, stopping and looking over her shoulder after a few feet.  “Until that time, then.”

Xander watched as she turned back around, shaking himself out of his stupor.  He raised a hand.  “Congratulations…”

He frowned, trailing off his words.  He noticed that she turned her head slightly as she walked off, smirking a little.

Xander turned his attention onto the others, noticing that the Prince of Orphans and the Thunderer had taken off as well, deep in conversation.  He looked around him for people that he knew.  It was difficult though, given the crowd.  Mystically enchanted pieces of ticker-tape were floating through the air on a gentle wind, obscuring parts of peoples’ faces.  He knew that the girls were taking the time to explore the various cities and the Heart of Heaven, leaving him to his own devices.

A couple of clowns on stilts caught his attention, freaking him out a little as he looked away quickly towards one of the tables on the edge of the pavilion.  Whatever good cheer he may have been feeling was swept away when he saw who one of the people at the table was.

The Iron Fist walked closer to it, the warnings of his friends echoing in his mind. 

“I say bring me ten of your Crane women, Serpent.  No, twenty!” Fat Cobra said, as he sat across the round table from Davos.  They had been there for some type.  A number of empty mugs lay on the table as proof of that.  “And I shall bed them all as I drink you under the table!”

Fat Cobra looked up, noticing the Weapon that he had fought in the first round of the Tournament.  He smiled widely and waved a hand.  “Iron Fist, come, join us.  We are wagering our wenches.  You have wenches as well, come and lose them to me.”

Xander smiled back, stepping forward and taking an empty seat next to the large sumo.  He looked across the table and noticed the Steel Serpent smirk at him.  He did nothing though, instead turning back to Fat Cobra.  “I…well, I wouldn’t exactly call them wenches.”

He didn’t imagine that they’d like being referred to in that way.  Though with the way that a Crane woman stood hovering, not literally, over Davos’ shoulder, he had to wonder exactly what they did for the Immortal Weapon of K’un-Zi in addition to supply power.

“Let us keep women out of our wagers, Cobra…for now,” Davos said lightly, smiling at the man he had been drinking with. 

Fat Cobra nodded, glancing over at Xander and noticing that he was without drink.  “Come, friend, this is a celebration.  You should be drinking something.”

He raised a meaty hand and within seconds a waiter was by with another mug of ale.  Fat Cobra pushed it into Xander’s hands, over the young man’s protests.  “Nonsense, this is a time to be celebrating.  Why, my celebration wenches will be here shortly.”

Xander just stared at the mug of amber liquid in his hands.  “I don’t drink.”

“Please, this is hardly drinking.  The ale here is very weak.  Nothing like that that we have in Takama-ga-hara,” Fat Cobra said, taking a deep gulp from his mug, draining half of it.

Xander simply looked at it.  He knew that refusal would be a mark of disrespect to Fat Cobra, who had been the friendliest of the Immortal Weapons so far.  He brought it to his lips and sipped.  It was rather weak, though slightly sour in taste.  “It’s…okay.”

“Good!” Fat Cobra clapped the Iron Fist on the back, laughing heartily.  “Now tell us about yourself, Iron Fist.  What other battles have you fought?”

xxx

Vi tucked and rolled, hearing the bokken whistle over her.  She whirled and regained her feet quickly, holding her own training sword in front of her.  Colleen was watching her intently, looking for an opening as she shifted her stance. 

They had been going at it for the last twenty minutes, mostly equal.  Colleen’s skill and technique were matched against Vi’s slightly enhanced abilities.  In some cases, that was all that had kept her from getting hit. 

Colleen had had significant training, even taking her katana with her to K’un-L’un.   At Xander’s suggestion, it had been kept in a bag, making sure that nobody really knew that she was carrying a weapon.  It also meant that they could only train within the walls of the Iron Fist’s home.

The potential shifted her grip, circling around, her eyes narrowed as she constantly evaluated and re-evaluated the situation.

“Wait,” Colleen called out, lowering her sword and looking past her opponent towards the doorway.

Vi frowned and dropped her guard as well, turning her head.  It wasn’t a complete surprise, as she saw that the other potential was standing there.

“Hey,” Faith said, stepping closer inside.  She sized up the two of them.  They had been practicing quite hard it would seem, even without Xander’s presence.  She had had to do some exercises of her own at Diana’s behest, to keep in practice, but Vi seemed to take it much more seriously. 

“What are you doing here?” Vi asked, slight accusation in her tone.  Her eyes were still narrowed as she watched Faith approach closer. 

Colleen could sense that there was some hostility that was there, but she didn’t exactly know why.  She hadn’t been with the group that long, but then again, Faith hadn’t been there that long either.  She knew the type though, and how annoying it could be.

Faith shrugged, coming to a stop a couple of feet away from her fellow potential.  “I thought you might want to practice some.   You can show me some of the things that Xander’s been teaching you.”

Vi went over her words, searching for some double entendre, but found nothing.  Faith seemed to be honest in her attentions.  “Are you going to apologize?”

Shrugging again, Faith smirked at her.  “Not really my thing.  But, it’d be better if we got along better.  I suppose it would be for Xander’s sake.”

Vi considered for a second before nodding.  She could deal with Faith’s shenanigans, even if she didn’t like them.  “Alright, c’mon.”

xxx

Lydia Chalmers tried to calm herself as she sat in front of the head Watcher’s desk.  It was her job to review the reports that the field Watchers sent back.  With Giles filling that capacity for both active Slayers, it cut down on the number of reports that she had to review.  Although, the additional time she had to allocate to that task had brought to light a number of discrepancies.  Ones that she had duly reported and passed up the chain of command.

Which was what led her to having to report to Quentin Travers directly.

“And, you think that Rupert has not been completely honest in his reports?” Quentin asked, looking across his desk at the young Watcher.  It was something of a surprise, there had been nothing to suggest that Rupert Giles was anything less than a hard-working Watcher.  That he was responsible for two Slayers now was all the more impressive. 

“Yes, sir,” Lydia replied, nodding.  It seemed that Travers had not completely reviewed the report that she had gathered her thoughts in.  “I’ve noticed some discrepancies in his reports.  They do not all match with other reports that we have been receiving from the Hellmouth.  As well as reports from other areas on what is going on on the Hellmouth.”

Travers waved a hand.  “Heresy and rumors are hardly sufficient to cast doubt on such an accomplished Watcher.  Need I remind you that he comes from a distinguished line of Watchers?”

Lydia nodded again, this time more hesitantly.  “I understand that, but I have received independent confirmation that does not match up with what his reports state.  There have been rumors brewing of a demon hunter of significant skill and power that is operating on the Hellmouth, yet such a thing is not even addressed in Giles’ reports.  At the very least he should have confirmed or discounted it.  There’s nothing.”

The head Watcher silently considered the argument.  It was true that Giles’ responsibilities included gathering information on any rumors that were travelling around in order to keep the Council at large informed.  However, there were innocent explanations for such things.  “There is some merit to what you say.”

Lydia nodded for a third time, breathing a near-silent sigh of relief.  “Thank you.”

“However, I do not think that there is enough evidence to support your accusation,” Quentin continued, ignoring the apprehension of the Watcher in front of him.  Still he understood that there was the possibility of truth in her belief.  “I want you to continue to review Watcher Giles’ reports.  See if there are any more anomalies.  It could be that being responsible for two Slayers is more taxing than we had originally calculated.  In the mean time, please follow up on any discrepancies in the reports.  See how much is wrong.”

“As for Rupert?” Lydia asked.

“We may need to send another Watcher for support,” Quentin replied.  “However, the Cruciamentum is not too long in the future.  We shall see if he has compromised his duty.”

“Very well,” Lydia said, glad that the head Watcher did not cast all blame on her.

“Good,” Quentin said, turning back to the other files on his desk.  He was the head of the Council after all.  He always had a great deal of work to do.  “That’s all.”

Lydia said nothing as she got up and left as fast as she politely could. 

xxx

The servant girl entered the room after a few moments.  She had knocked, but had gotten no response.  So it was a surprise when she found that the room was inhabited.  She looked at the woman that was seated at a desk set against one of the side walls.  “I apologize, Mistress.  I did not know that anybody was inside.”

Jenny looked up from the book she had been reading and over towards the door, taking in the young woman that was standing there.  She had an armload of folded sheets and blankets in her hands.  She couldn’t tell if she had ever seen that particular servant before, their uniforms all looking the same and obscuring their identities.  “It’s alright.  You can come in.”

“Thank you,” the servant girl said, walking inside and nudging the door shut.  She moved over to the bed and started to replace the sheets, consciously aware of the woman’s presence.  She could feel the Iron Fist’s woman watch her as she worked.

“You don’t have to call me that,” Jenny spoke at last, still watching as the young woman smoothed the blankets on the bed.  “I have name.  You can call me Jenny.”

The servant girl turned around, gathering the old sheets in her arms.  She faced the woman, looking at her inquisitively.  “It would not be appropriate, Mistress.”

“It’s alright,” Jenny said reassuredly, standing up and coming closer to the servant girl.  She watched her closely, noticing that the servant girl was trying to give nothing away.  “Where I’m from, that title usually refers to something else.”

The servant girl had no idea what she was talking about.  “Are you not the head of his concubines?”

“What?” Jenny burst out, shocked.  “Xander’s not…I mean, I am the only one that is with him.”

“Forgive me, Mistress,” the servant girl said quickly, bowing low.  “I did not understand.”

“It’s alright,” Jenny said, noting that the girl seemed very nervous.  “It was a mistake.  The others are not his concubines.  Do the Iron Fists usually take on multiple lovers?”

The servant girl shrugged.  “Sometimes.  It is less frequent now, but it has happened in the past.  It is just that he travels with so many women.”

Jenny nodded in some understanding.  The City was an odd mix of things.  Modern technology did not exist per se, but the effect was made through other means.  It should have been of no surprise that old societal ways existed there as well.  “Well, you can call me Jenny.  What’s your name?”

The servant girl hesitated, not knowing what to say.  “I was not granted a name.”

Jenny was taken aback.  As much as things in K’un-L’un seemed similar to what she was used to, there were still things that surprised her.  Things she would not have thought would come up.  Magic cities she could handle, this not so much.  “Really?  Why?”

“I…,” the servant girl hesitated again, not knowing how much to explain to the woman.  She was there to serve, yet some things should not be spoken of.  Not until they could be changed.  “I was born into the servant caste, born illegitimately.  It was not something that is done.”

Jenny frowned at that.  The implications of a caste system were not lost on her, although she supposed that there were those that sought to change such things.  “You should have a name.”

“Thank you, Mis-Jenny.  I shall think on that,” the servant girl spoke, smiling beneath her mask.  She bowed and turned around, heading towards the door with the old sheets. 

“Wait,” Jenny called out, causing the servant girl to stop up short and turn around.  “What do they think of me?”

“The people?” The servant girl asked, tilting her head slightly.  “They do not know you that well, having only recently arrived in our City.  But, they have no reasons to dislike you.”

“And?” Jenny asked, slightly pleased that at least she wasn’t hated by the city at large.  It was the first place where she could be so free with her relationship, and it was reassuring that it was being accepted.

“And, they…we believe that any woman that the Iron Fist kept would be of a certain….standard,” the servant girl said carefully.  Still, she had to admit that she was impressed by the woman.  It did reflect well on Xander’s character.  “I must go.  I still have much work to do.  Thank you.”

Jenny watched her leave, wondering about the woman’s circumstances and how they would be changed.  Xander had said that an army of women was being trained beneath the City.  The servant girl could very well be one of them, though she would not be willing to admit it.

xxx

Morning came all too quickly for most.  Fat Cobra had been right about the strength of the beer though; it had been weak and therefore had not resulted in a hangover.  He had been able to control himself sitting before Davos, although that had been odd in and of itself.   Maybe it was irony, but even Davos had his moments of levity.  There really wasn’t anyone that was a monster 24 hours of every day.

Xander turned his attention towards the arena as the participants of the day’s Tournament fight walked into the center. 

“Ladies and gentlemen, gathered noblepersons of the Seven Capital Cities of Heaven,” the Prince of Orphans proclaimed loudly, still draped in his identity-obscuring robes.  “It is, as always, an honor to be amongst you this fine day.  Tonight’s combat sees Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter versus-“

The Prince of Orphans turned to face Davos, the fighter dressed in his mask and clothed in long dark purple robes that allowed only the head of his tattoo to appear on his bare chest.  “Forgive me, Davos-as you have a new sponsor, and a new city, I am unsure of your Warrior’s Name.”

“I am Davos!  I am the Immortal Weapon of the City of K’un-Zi!”  Davos pulled the tail of his mask back over his shoulder, gripping the fastener at the top of his robes.  He pulled it apart, revealing the tattoo on his chest.  He turned and faced the crowd, looking for and finding the man he wanted.  “I am to be known as, Steel Phoenix.”

Despite the distance, Xander could easily see what Davos had just revealed.  The half-formed dragon that lay on Davos, similar to his own, now had wings.  Not the full wings that his own dragon tattoo had, but sharp, angular ones, that looks like blades.

“How did that happen?” Xander wondered aloud.  He remembered the first time he had seen that tattoo, and it had assuredly been as much a serpent as the man himself.

“Quiet, Xander.  Just watch,” Lei-Kung admonished lightly from the Iron Fist’s left.  He stared at the fighters on the ground though, wondering exactly what the man had planned.  “He may call himself “Phoenix,” but he has always been a serpent.  And one always worth of study.”

“He is your son,” Xander said, wondering at the animosity.  Although, he supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised.  In his experience, fathers and sons often didn’t see eye to eye.  And each could be a disappointment to the other.

“It is because he is my son that I know this,” Lei-Kung replied.  “Now, pay attention.”

Xander watched as the fighters readied themselves, the referee making his way to the observation platform.  Davos tossed his robes away, dressed only in dark pants made of a canvas-like material.  It was similar to what Iron Fists of old wore, though in different colors. 

Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter on the other hand, was something else entirely.  She had on a golden face mask, which protected her forehead and the bottom half of her head.  She had had on a robe so he hadn’t seen what she was wearing, but she had removed it for the battle to come.  She was now clad in what looked to be strategically placed leather straps, gold buckles on each of them.  In her hands, were fans, and Xander knew that the large red fans were tessen, with iron ribs that were sharpened enough to cut through bone.

“And where are your harlots, little bird?” Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter mocked as she raised her fans into position.  “Where on Earth will you summon your power?”

“Unh,” Xander muttered as he heard what she said.  Still, he had probably charged himself prior to the battle.  The thought left his mind as he saw Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter arch her back.  That new thought didn’t last long as he felt lips brush his ear to his right.

“Don’t even think about it,” Jenny said, placing a hand on his leg, squeezing lightly.

“I wasn’t…” Xander weakly protested, knowing that it was no use.   He turned to face her, knowing that she wouldn’t buy it.  “Sorry.”

 He turned his attention back to the fight, knowing that it was his first chance to really see what he would be facing.  His prior battle to Davos had been an ambush and he hadn’t been thinking very clearly, and if he was to face Davos, this would be the best chance he got to see what he was in for.

Davos glared mockingly at the woman he was about to fight.  “I’ll dig deep, harlot.  If you’re lucky, maybe I’ll show you how deep.”

“Would that I could ever be so lucky,” Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter replied sarcastically, waving her fans, the iron whistling through the air.

Davos moved closer, rushing forward in a rising jump kick.  “We live in hope.”

Xander watched as the newly named Steel Phoenix sprang forward.  A number of strong kicks forcing his opponent back.  He recognized a number of the moves, they were in the style of K’un-L’un.  It was no surprise as Davos was not trained by K’un-Zi.  He only represented them.

Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter did not stay on defense however, swinging her fans in a wide arc.  A Whirling Devil Dervish caught Davos on the side, drawing a line of blood across flesh.

Davos grunted, as he felt the blade bite sharply into him.  “Wench!”

“I’ll not be your wench, little bird,” Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter retorted, as she pressed the attack.  She flowed with her fans, letting the air allow them to flying in graceful arcs.  She struck out with the one in her right hand, striking Davos across his left bicep.  “Not for all the tea in China.  Not for-“

The Steel Phoenix ignored the pain, instead jabbing forward with his right hand, fingers extended.  He poked the woman in the eyes forcefully, drawing blood from the sockets.

“Gah.” Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter fell back, eyes stinging.  In reflex, she swept up with one of her fans, feeling more than seeing as it met resistance.

“Too low to blind me.  Too high to block my blow,” she said in anger, ignoring the pain and the blood that was running down her cheeks.  She saw what damage she had done, the Steel Phoenix’s right hand lay on the dirt ground, blood pooling around it.   “You’re a bully.  A child.  A sad little tyrant.  Not a warrior.”

Davos, grit his teeth, both in pain at the loss of his hand as well as the words.  He clenched the stump in his left hand, willing the blood to stop flowing.  His mind went back towards the last time he had been so injured. 

He had snuck out into the snow, so many years ago.  He had faced the dragon, doing his best to do battle with it, and earning a scar over his left eye as a result.  But, Shou-Lao the Undying had found him unworthy.  It turned away and slithered its way back to its cave.  He knew in his heat that it had been in contempt.

Davos stood straight, letting his know handless arm drop to his side.  He stared at his opponent in fury.  “I will kill you for this transgression.”

He moved forward, his arm still hurting, an ache at the end of it as if his hand was still there.  He poured more and more pain and anger into it.  The stump started to glow purple with his chi energy.  “I will kill you with my bare hands.”

The Steel Phoenix burst forward, the chi energy that had collected coalescing into a glowing energy fist.  He punched with it, easily ripping through the fans that Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter raised in defense.  The Steel Phoenix Blow (first execution) was strong enough to rip the mask from his opponent’s face.

Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter dropped to the ground, letting go of the fans as she lay stunned. 

Davos was not content, following up and hitting her again.  And again.

“Shit,” Xander said, rising from his seat in anger.  He was stopped though as he felt strong hands from behind hold him by his shoulders.  He looked up behind him at who dared to stop him.

Fat Cobra simply shook his head, his face showing a rare display of impotent sadness.  There was nothing that they could do.  There were rules that even they, in all their power, had to follow.

Xander took his seat under protest, turning to face the Thunderer.  He pointed towards the beating that was being meted out below.  “That is not combat.  There is no honor in that.  It’s murder.”

Lei-Kung said nothing, instead rising to his feet in deep regret.

Davos yelled down at Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter.  “Hah.  Not so smug now, are you?  Not so glib!”

Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter tried to regain her feet.  “Mercy.  I yie-“

“Don’t you dare say it,” the Steel Phoenix exclaimed again, striking her down yet another time. 

“Davos!” Lei-Kung shouted, anger apparent in his voice in a rare public display of emotion.  He had appeared suddenly on the floor of the arena.  He looked at the winner of the contest as he walked forward.  “Son.  Enough.”

The Steel Phoenix turned around, glaring at his father.  “Say it.  And say it loud, damn you.”

The Thunderer did not bother to answer, turning his back and facing the crowd.  “Steel Phoenix wins!  Davos is the Champion.  Davos is the Champion.”

Xander’s stomach turned as he took in Davos enjoying his victory as Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter’s attendants looked after her.

xxx

“Do you think it is him?” The Prince of Orphans asked as the Thunderer looked through a large and very old book.  

Lei-Kung said nothing as he closed the volume and placed it back upon the shelf.  “What other Xao do you know of that is involved with HYDRA?”

The Prince of Orphans shrugged, approaching closer.  “None.  But I would not have expected that even your son would involve himself with scum of their kind.  Although, after yesterday’s battle…”

“Like you did?” Lei-Kung inquired, turning around to face the Immortal Weapon.

“Means to an end.” The Prince of Orphans had hired them on before, employing a few as mercenaries that could do things that he could not.  He had never claimed to be a righteous man, although he supposed that the total of his actions in his long life balanced in his favor.  “But you know what Xao’s end goals are.  What they have always been.  Do you believe that Davos feels similarly?”

“Despite how far he has fallen, I cannot believe that it has come to that.” Lei-Kung sighed, looking out into the large library.  He had spent much time looking through the ancient texts and records, looking for another explanation.  But, there was only one.  The truth.  “How can I seek to save my City if I cannot even save my own son?”

“One does not reflect upon the other.  And ultimately all of our actions are all our own to justify,” the Prince of Orphans replied.  “Do you believe that your Iron Fist is ready for what is to come?  He is impetuous and immature.”

“He is also a boy,” Lei-Kung inserted lightly.  “Do you not remember how you were when you were his age?  Perhaps the years are too long ago.”

The Prince of Orphans smiled under robes.  He remembered, though he would be loathe to admit that it had been he who did all of those things.  He had had his own wild streak in youth.  “Xao complicates matters.  If he is truly coming to strike now.”

“It is the perfect time is it not?” Lei-Kung questioned.  “The barriers between worlds are at their weakest, and the Heart of Heaven connects all the Cities.”

The Prince of Orphans snapped his head towards the man, the implications working themselves out in his head.  “Which means…”

“That all of the Seven Cities are at risk.  Not just K’un-L’un,” the Thunderer finished; on the same wavelength.  Suddenly, things had grown that much more complicated.  “We all have something to lose now.  Even you, John.”

The Prince of Orphans did not react, knowing that Lei-Kung spoke the truth.

xxx

“So did you pick a name yet?” Xander asked, leaning against one of the wooden pillars that held up the ceiling.  He looked over at the servant girl as she prepared herself some tea.

“Not yet,” the servant girl said, turning in her seat to face the one that she served.  “Is there something I can do for you, Iron Fist?”

Xander did not answer that question.  “When you’re free what will you do?”

“Anything I like, Iron Fist.” The servant girl stood up and walked closer to him.  “I suppose that’s what it means to be free.”

“Jenny said that she talked to you,” Xander continued.  “Which got me to thinking.  This whole thing about what you and Lei-Kung are planning.  There’s a bunch of stuff you haven’t said.  I get involved or not, it involves those that I care about simply because they’re here.  So even if I didn’t want to do anything, I’d be a target anyway.  In order to protect them, I’d need to get involved with your Army of Thunder.  You’d have another soldier, and I’d have no choice.”

“You think too highly of me, Iron Fist,” the servant girl responded.

Xander scoffed at that.  “Please, I’m not that dumb.  Either way you get the war that you want.  And you don’t care who else gets caught up in it.”

“It is a cause worth fighting for,” the servant girl retorted, crossing her arms over her chest.

Xander merely nodded.  “Maybe so, but that doesn’t mean your manipulations don’t have consequences.  Don’t worry, I’ll fight in your revolution.”

“I didn’t have a choice, you don’t know what it’s like-“ the servant girl started to say.

“No, I don’t.”  Xander cut her off, suddenly angry.  “You’d make a marvelous Yu-Ti some day.”

The servant girl was stunned, and looked away in shame.

Xander closed his eyes, angry at himself.  “I’m…I’m sorry.  You didn’t deserve that.  You asked me to fight in this, and I accepted.  Whatever the reason.  It’s not your fault that things came to this.”

“She’s going to be alright” the servant girl said perceptively.

“What?” Xander asked, losing his train of thought.

“Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter,” the servant girl answered, knowing what was causing the Iron Fist’s outbursts.   “She will be alright.  I did not know that you knew her that well.  Or was it because of Davos?”

Xander smiled slightly.  “Davos.  I guess it’s just easier to see how easy it is to get hurt in this thing.  Even when there are rules.”

“I understand,” the servant girl said, taking his hand in comfort.  “And I am sorry.  And I do care what happens to your friends.”

Xander sighed, knowing that she meant what she said.  “I know.”

xxx

“Having fun?” Xander said, taking a seat at the table.  It was set for the evening meal, but it was still early.  He had noticed that Lilah often ate her meals early, in order to avoid the majority of them.  For all he had to do, he didn’t want to focus so much as to ignore what was going on around him.  That blindness had cost him already. 

You can tell your people not to bother following me around,” Lilah said, looking over at the boy she was now in the employ of.  “I am not going to betray you.  And they are far too unskilled to try to stop me from doing what I want.”

“Maybe so,” Xander acknowledged.  “But you have to see it from my side.  You came looking for me after all.  And, wherever you are now, do you really think I can trust you?”

“Do you think you’ll ever be able to?” Lilah asked, a smirk on her lips.

“Well, that’s the thing,” Xander said, looking her in the eyes and seeing the wicked playfulness.  “And, I suppose that you’re not really going to bother trying to convince me that I should.”

“The scorpion crossing the river springs to mind,” Lilah said lightly.  She could not blame him really.  They had both played the game, and Xander, through luck and guile, had simply played it better.  Good enough to come out of it ahead, and guarantee that he wouldn’t be touched for the most part.  “I serve as your lawyer.  Don’t try to make me your friend.  I’m not like those girls that you surround yourself with.”

“Maybe not.  Maybe I’m too stupid to know better.” Xander reached over and plucked a dumpling from a plate and popped it into his mouth.  He chewed on it for a few moments before swallowing.  “But you need to remember, you got something out of this too.  You’re well paid, and being able to sleep at night is a nice side benefit.”

“If you think that I had trouble sleeping at night before, then you don’t know me at all,” Lilah remarked, smiling a little.

“Maybe I just choose to believe that you can pick a better way.  Or at least one where I can have you serve as my lawyer without wondering when the other shoe’s going to drop,” Xander said.  He knew enough to know that she probably enjoyed the game that they were playing.  And while she likely was being honest in that she wouldn’t betray him, she was also being honest in how little she had cared about morality.  “Maybe I just want to see the best in people.”

“Like Davos?” Lilah remarked, arching an eyebrow.  “Where I got to in Wolfram and Hart is the best of me.  It would be good for you not to forget that.”

“Got you didn’t I?  That’s why you’re here,” Xander said, smiling back at her.  “It would be good for you to not forget that either.”

Lilah said nothing.

“Look, there’s a party tomorrow night.  Big food thing, lot of people, I want you there.  Sit with the others,” Xander said, changing the subject.  “Maybe even have a good time.  Who knows maybe some of the fun will rub off on you.”

“Is that an order?” the lawyer asked.

“Do I need to make it one?” Xander responded blithely.

Lilah shook her head.  “I’ll be there.  But, are you really trying to get me to integrate, thinking that it’ll change me?  Or do you just want them to keep a better eye on me?”

“Maybe you can change,” Xander said, shrugging.  “But, I also want to keep an eye on you.  No offense you know.”

Lilah nodded, not offended by the answer.  “Good.  You’re learning then.  Maybe you’re not going to be a waste to work for after all.”

If she had to be honest to herself, she actually liked the young man to as much of a degree as she could.  He had talent and skill, even if it was marred by his heart.  Of course, that flaw was why she was needed there.  At least his taste in women was adequate; there was worse he could do even amongst his own group.

xxx

“Bad night?” Lei-Kung asked, noticing that Xander looked particularly troubled.

Xander shrugged, looking at his teacher.  “Just a lot to think about.”

“Yes, I suppose there is,” the Thunderer said, turning his attention back to the fight that was to begin.  Night had passed too quickly, and he still had much to think about.  Still, the Tournament was why they were there, and what to do about Xao and Davos would unfold in its own good time.

Xander watched the familiar sight of fighters and the assigned referee enter into the arena.  It was the first time that the Prince of Orphans would be fighting, the man having been given a bye in the first round.  It should be something to see, his years of movie watching experience telling him that anybody that mysterious with such a reputation had to be a good fighter.

He scanned through the audience quickly, catching sight of Davos as well as the bandaged Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter.  That Davos did not look particularly the worse for wear did little to bring him down.  The wheel would come round when it did, and worrying about it now would do no good.

“And so, most honored Immortal Weapons, with the first round of combat completed, we now turn to the first match of Round Two.” Dog Brother #1 spoke aloud, facing the crowd.  He wore none of his previous battle’s wounds, having healed himself already.  All of the Immortal Weapons had the ability to utilize their chi energy in such a fashion.  “Where the first and foremost of us all, the Prince of Orphans, fights the first victor, Fat Cob-“

“Wait,” The Prince of Orphans spoke, stopping the referee with a raised hand.

“Ah…yes?” Dog Brother #1 spoke, turning to face the Prince of Orphans.  “Yes, sir?  Did I speak incorrectly?  Have I offended you somehow?”

The Prince of Orphans shook his head.  “No, Dog Brother #1.  You speak with the verve and brio of a natural born barker.  But if it would please the assembled…and my honored opponent…”

The Prince bowed low towards Fat Cobra, and then turned, taking the time to remove his hood, and revealing himself for the first time.  He was a tall and broad man in truth, Caucasian in origin, the years etched on his face.  His bald head was marked with scars, evidence of the battles that he had found himself in. 

“What the hell?” Xander exclaimed softly, the man’s appearance familiar in a way that he could not exactly place.  It tickled at the back of his mind.

“I would like to propose a rather unorthodox shifting of the first sequencing.” The Prince of Orphans looked into the crowd, taking in that even mystical healing could not fully restore Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter’s health in one night.  He looked further, settling on the man that he was looking for.  “Seeing the last round of combat…seeing the fire and violence that were unleashed…made me eager to face it myself.  I wish not to combat Fat Cobra-no offense to you, fine sir- but rather Davos.”

Davos smiled smugly at being called out.  “Steel Phoenix.  And of course, I accept.”

Fat Cobra glared at Davos as he descended to the arena floor.  He looked over at the Prince of Orphans and nodded.  The sumo walked over to the edge, ready to take a seat and sit out this fight.  He called out to his retinue as he exited the arena.  “Bring me my wenches of waiting!”

Xander looked on grimly as Davos took off his robe and entered into a fighting stance, one arm ending in a wrapped stump.  The newly unmasked Prince of Orphans just stood there.  The Iron Fist didn’t know what was coming, but he got the feeling that somebody wasn’t going to be coming out of it well. 

“Don’t think that because you are a venerated elder I will show you mercies that escaped Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter.”  The Steel Phoenix narrowed his eyes as he glared at his opponent.  “I fear old men even less than I fear painted whores.”

“Shut up.” The Prince of Orphans just stood there, expressionless.  He gazed at Davos, feeling nothing but pity and anger.  “Child.”

Davos yelled out, rushing forward with his right wrist erupting into a purple glow and creating his new fist.  He struck out at the Prince of Orphans, the concentration of chi striking into the heart of his opponent.  It did nothing however, and he was dumfounded as the Prince of Orphans exploded into green mist. 

“How the hell?” Davos exclaimed, pulling back, knowing that he had not done such damage to his opponent.  That was all he could get out however, as he learned that the mist was not as insubstantial as he thought.

The green mist struck out, hitting with the strength of a dozen men as the Prince of Orphans punched Davos across the face.

Steel Phoenix could do little to his opponent, as he struck wildly with his fist, the only result of which was some disruption of the green vapor.  He was hit again and again as tentacles of mist struck at him as if they had a mind of their own.

Davos fell to the ground, spitting blood out into the dirt.  He looked up and imagined that he could see the spectral form of the Prince of Orphans somewhere in the mist.

“This is a Tournament, child.” A bodyless voice echoed out of the smoke that billowed around the arena floor.  “And men like ourselves are nothing without rules.”

A four punch combo, the Jawsnapper in Twilight, caught Steel Phoenix in the face, spraying more blood out of Davos’ mouth.  If he had been a normal man, the blows would have killed him.  The green mist engulfed the Steel Phoenix as he fell, slowing the descent.  “Easy, boy.  I’ve got you.”

The ghostly form of the Prince of Orphan’s head solidified slightly and moved towards the fallen Davos’ ear.  “Now listen.  I’m going to teach you something about having a code.”

“What the hell?” Xander asked, barely believing what he had just seen.  Which was incredible itself considering that he had also witnessed a woman whose torso contained a massive amount of spiders.  He had no idea what the Prince of Orphans really was.

“I have no idea, my friend,” Fat Cobra said, leaning down. 

“What is he saying?” Xander asked, talking over his shoulder.

Fat Cobra just looked at the sight in shock.  “I don’t know.”

Xander watched as the mist fell in on itself and gained manshape, darkening and gaining mass until the Prince of Orphans once more appeared in front of them.  It was all still so familiar, but he couldn’t quite identify it.  “It can’t be good.”

“He yields,” the Prince of Orphans said, standing up straight and looking out amongst the crowd.  He made sure to individually pick out the other Immortal Weapons.  “He’s unconscious, so he can’t say it, but he yields.  And let that be a lesson to you all.  This is a Tournament both ancient and honorable, with traditions and rules for all of its combatants.  It is not a murder carnival.”

The other Immortal Weapons said nothing, seated stoically in their places.

“The tragic events of the last Tournament seem to have clouded the purpose of the thing in your minds,” the Prince spoke further.  “If one more unnecessary drop of blood is spilled, you will all pay the price.  We are warriors, not killers.”

Xander could tell that the last was spoken to him.  It was a reminder, one deserved, yet not needed.  He had long been lectured on the subject, enough so that he would listen.

xxx

Vi looked across the room at the large table that was set at the front of it.  The hall had been rearranged for the Evening Festival, with new places for them all.  They were still seated together, as part of Xander’s accompaniment, but Xander was seated across the way, with the rest of the Immortal Weapons.  Well, all of them except for Davos and the Prince of Orphans.  She could understand why Davos was not there, but it seemed odd for the Prince to be seated by himself.

“Pass me the pot stickers,” Faith said, breaking into Vi’s concentration.

Vi was startled for a moment, suppressing the urge to jump, but looked over at the common plate nearest her and passed it over to the other potential.

“According to what I’ve learned, it’s part of the Evening Festival.  The Immortal Weapons eat together to show unity.  Well, I suppose Davos is still recuperating, and the Prince of Orphans has enough status to get around it,” Colleen explained, as she glanced over in Xander’s direction as well. 

She had used much of her time there to record observations on K’un-L’un.  She had travelled the different roads to the other Cities as well, learning what she could about the people that inhabited those places.  It was quite a discovery to learn that so many mystical Asian realms were actually real places full of people.  Her father would have much to look at and research when she returned. 

It was something of a surprise, and comfort, that the food was still largely the same as on Earth, despite being separate worlds.  The waiters were busy with bringing new dishes to replace the ones that were rapidly consumed.  In fact, Colleen would guess she hadn’t seen a dish she didn’t recognize.  There was a paper there she supposed in how little things looked to have deviated in comparison to their closest related societies on Earth despite the inherent magic in the Capital Cities.  “In fact, it dates back- Oooh, nian gao.”

Vi just smiled at the woman’s antics.  Despite how focused she could be during a fight, Colleen could be very flighty when she saw something she likes.  Whether it was a sweet dessert or a new weapon.

Diana looked at the gathered table as well.  She had taken copious notes on the fighting styles that she had seen.  She had never been a witness to anything like it.  Martial arts were one thing, even when mystically enhanced, but the way that these people fought were something else altogether.  She was disinclined to think that some of them were actually human.  The Council would undoubtedly wish to know more about them.  More than that, it would be quite a boon for them if they were able to hire some of them.  Of course, the winner, which it was becoming clearer and clearer would not be Xander, would likely be the easiest to convince, given the ease of travel between dimensions.

“I wouldn’t try hiring them,” Lilah said, breaking in to the conversation.  She smiled a little arrogantly as eyes turned towards her.  “I mean, it would be quite a coup for the Watchers’ Council, but they’re all affiliated.  You’d cause a great offense if you tried to sway the Weapon of another City away given your placement in Xander’s accompaniment.  And, your place in Xander’s entourage will not protect you when it comes out.”

“Be that as it may, I do have my duties,” Diana said primly.  She had no love for the ex-Wolfram and Hart lawyer.  Their reputation was well known to the Council.  “It is something that at least has to be considered.”

“For Xander’s benefit, consider it off the table,” Lilah said, picking up a bit of food with her chopsticks and placing it in her mouth.  She waited until she had chewed and swallowed before speaking further.  “It would be considered a grave breach of protocol.”

“Lilah is right,” Colleen added, not that surprised that the lawyer had been checking up on the social norms and regulations that surrounded the Capital Cities and the Tournament of Heavenly Cities.  “It’s a bad idea.”

Diana simply nodded.  And so it went, for now at least.

“Have you talked to any of them?” Vi asked, observing Colleen cut a large slice of the glutinous rice pudding and place it onto her plate. 

“A little,” Colleen said, talking around the bite of food she had in her mouth.  “Not all of them are so talkative, and the Bride of Nine Spiders freaks me out.  Dog Brother #1 is nice enough, and Fat Cobra is...well he’s Fat Cobra.”

Vi nodded, glad that the Immortal Weapons weren’t all like Davos.  She looked down as she felt something brush against her leg.  It was a large brown dog, rubbing its head against her thigh.  He looked up at her with large emotive eyes, whimpering a little as he nudged at her, sniffing intently.  “Awww, do you want some food?”

The mixed-breed dog nodded, as if in understanding, and opened its large mouth.  He waited as the girl dropped a dumpling into his mouth, chewing it rapidly and swallowing.  The dog sat up and laid his head in the girl’s lap.

“Looks like you made a new friend,” Jenny replied wryly as Vi scratched the dog on the head.  It was pretty obvious where he had come from.  Dog Brother #1 had many of his pack wandering around the room.

“He’s so cute,” Vi said, as she scratched, the dog closing his eyes with pleasure.

Faith looked on, smirking.  “Easiest way to a man’s heart.  Well, second easiest.”

Vi looked over at her, smiling.

xxx

“Why shouldn’t he be dining with us?” Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter asked, somewhat irritated.  She considered it a great offense that the Prince of Orphans was not seated with them.  Social protocol demanded it of them all.  Davos, injured as he was, the sole exception.  “He’s the only one of us that fought in previous tournaments.  He’s probably older, and wiser, than this whole table combined.  Damn it, he’s a living link to our forbidden history and I say we ask of him our questions.”

Xander just looked at her.  She certainly was feisty up close.  And the bandages wrapped around her face did nothing to slow her down.  As it was, she was even dressed impeccably, her hair done in an exquisite layered bun held in place by long needles that were topped with gold.  “Maybe he just wants to eat by himself?”

Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter just glared at the Iron Fist.

Fat Cobra took the opportunity to stretch and yawn, arching a large arm across the shoulders of Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter.  He was as smooth and stealthy as his namesake.

“Uh,” Xander continued, thinking that she wasn’t happy with that response.  Or with Fat Cobra considering the way she was looking at the hand that was currently resting on her shoulder.  “I’ll go ask him.  You stay here.”

Xander got up out of his chair, wanting to avoid the fallout of what might happen.

“I’ll join you, Iron Fist,” Dog Brother #1 said, getting up as well.

“Why?” Iron Fist asked, looking over at Fat Cobra’s expression.  From the Weapon’s content expression, it seemed that the sumo seemed to think he was doing quite well.

“Backup.” Dog Brother #1 stepped into line behind Xander as they started on their way over to the Prince of Orphan’s table.

“You think I can’t handle this myself?” Xander asked, frowning. 

Dog Brother #1 stopped and looked at him, causing the Iron Fist to stop as well.  “Yes.”

“Thanks,” Xander said sarcastically, moving again and headed towards the Prince of Orphans’ table.  He had to weave his way around a few waiters, but it didn’t take long.

The Prince of Orphans paid them no attention as they approached.

“Ah, excuse me, Prince,” Xander said, trying to get the Prince to look at them.  “The Immortal Weapons were wondering if you’d like to join us.  I’m sure there’s much you can tell us about your past wins, and past Tournaments.  Also, what the previous Immortal Weapons were like.”

Xander fidgeted as the Prince of Orphans did nothing.  He noticed the scowl on Dog Brother #1’s face, as well as his hand moving to draw his sword.  He quickly grabbed a hold of the Immortal Weapon, trying to calm him down.  He faced the Prince of Orphans as he spoke though, “or anything really. Anything at all.  Uh, sir.”

The Prince of Orphans still did not turn their way, though he raised his chopsticks.  It was in dismissal however.  “Away.”

Xander hurried away, dragging Dog Brother #1 with him.

“How did it go?” Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter asked, as the two men returned.  She could tell that it didn’t go so well, considering that the Prince of Orphans was still seated in his original place. 

“Uh,” Xander said, glancing over at Fat Cobra who was staring at the hair needle that had been embedded in, and was actually  going through, his left hand.  “The Prince of Orphans doesn’t need any new friends.  Do you need some help with that, Fat Cobra?”

xxx

Xander looked down at the characters that were written in the Book of the Iron Fist.  He had read through the same section twice already, but could not remember what was there.  His mind was wandering that night and he couldn’t concentrate.

The heavy dinner also made him drowsy. 

“Xander,” a voice said aloud in the darkness.

The Iron Fist looked up from his place on the floor towards where the voice originated from.  “Now you come?”

“This is a better setting for the things that we need to discuss.  A place with fewer ears that might overhear things that we would seek to keep private,” the Prince of Orphans said, stepping into the candlelight.  He pulled part of his robe back, revealing his upper torso.  Upon it, amidst scars, lay a Chi-Tun symbol etched upon his upper chest.  “You already know what this mark is and whom it is that I ally myself with.”

Xander nodded, standing up.  “Yes, but who are you?”

“I am John Aman,” the Prince said, lowering his hand.  “Like Orson, I too am an orphan of the West raised by the East.”

“John Aman,” Xander said frowning.  The name was so familiar.  As was much about the man now.  “Amazing Man.  I…I read a couple of your comic books before.  Golden Age.”

“Yes,” John said, looking away in slight embarrassment.  “I was perhaps a little too cavalier when I was around your age.  I allowed news of my feats to get out into the public eye.  Not that anybody would believe them except in the pages of four color comics.”

“What do you want?” Xander asked, stepping forward.

“Xao.  It is time that you know what it is that he wants,” the Prince of Orphans stated, thinking that it was odd that it would come to this.  “And, what you need to do to save this world.”
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