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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
neoolongFR1814143,74794127,46012 Dec 089 Aug 09Yes

Chapter Ten: Every War is a Lie

“Do you ever ask yourself if you’re doing the right thing?” Xander asked, looking behind him at the Thunderer. It had taken many hours into the night for the Prince of Orphans to explain his place in the grand scheme of things. The revelation that was his true name had been an amusing bit of levity, one that led to more thoughts on which other characters might or might not be based upon real people. A moment of levity that was all too brief.

“Often,” the Thunderer said simply. Though seldom voiced, he had questioned the righteousness of their planned revolution. And though he ultimately decided that it was needed, it didn’t mean that he had no qualms about it. Revolutions had a way of making villains of them all.

Xander turned around to face Lei-Kung. The time of the revolution was almost at hand, and he had gotten more nervous than he had ever been before. “I may not have been the best student, but even I know something of history. And the replacement leaders in a coup usually don’t end up being better than what they replaced.”

“Do you believe that to be the case here?” Lei-Kung asked, walking forward and crossing his arms over his chest.

The Iron Fist shrugged. “I don’t know what the point is. You, and everyone here thinks me so important. When did I become a figurehead? Or a leader?”

“Fate doesn’t always let us decide what we have to become,” the Thunderer replied. “Orson trained you well. Trust in that.”

“I don’t feel ready,” Xander admitted, shaking his head.

Lei-Kung nodded, walking over to a wooden chest that lay against the wall in his quarters and opening it. He lifted a sheathed sword and strapped it to his back. He looked back at the Iron Fist. “Fate does not wait for us to be that, either.”

Xander smirked. “Yeah. Guess not.”

xxx

Amy picked up the report and looked through it. She had picked up a copy of the complete list that Willow had compiled about potential targets for that gang they had taken out. While they had found the right artifact fairly quickly, she had wondered about what else might be on the list. What else might be dangerous.

“Let’s see, some figurines from China, canopic jars…wood carvings from…Ethiopia,” Amy trailed off and leaned forward in her seat as she looked at the next item. “Ceremonial mask from Nigeria. Carved in the likeness of Ovu Mobani.”

Frowning, the name tickling at the back of her mind, Amy laid the sheets of paper down on her desk. She stood up and walked to her bookshelf, scanning through the spines of the multitude of books she had crammed in there. Her dad didn’t particularly look into what she read, so many of her magical reference books were mixed in there as well.

It didn’t take her long to find the compendium she was looking for. Searching through the index of the book, she found the entry and flipped through to the right entry. Her frown grew deeper and her eyes grew wider as she read about the mask and the demon that it was linked to.

Closing the book and placing it back on the book shelf, the witch made a decision. She walked over to her bed and bent down, pulling out a small metal box from underneath it. Spinning the dials she opened it up and pulled out a few hundred dollars from inside, placing it into her pants’ pocket.

It looked like there was another dangerous artifact to acquire.

xxx

Though his shoulder tore at him a little as he placed the butt of the rifle tight against it, Clint held the gun firmly. He sighted through the rifle’s scope, attempting to focus on the soup can that he had placed a couple thousand yards away. At the remote site in Colorado, he was in no danger of hitting anyone. As it was, the large plot of land had been owned by his grandfather, passed on through the family until it became his.

The marine sergeant couldn’t help but squint as the image came in fuzzy. Even adjustments to the rifle’s scope did nothing to clear up what he was seeing. He coughed as the distorted image nearly gave him vertigo.

Shaking his head in frustration, he looked up and decided to remove the scope. It was rather stupid, but the scope was of no use anyways. Somewhat to his shock, he could actually see the soup can clearly, his vision nearly zooming in on the small object so far away. It was clear enough to read the front of the label. More than that, it was like he could see the potential shot in his head. The calculations that needed to be made to ensure that the ballistic path of the bullet went where intended swam through his head. Humidity, elevation, temperature, the wind, even a hint of the Coriolis effect all factored together to create the perfect possible ballistic path to put the bullet into the can of soup.

Placing his cheek tight against the cheek pad near the butt of the rifle, Clint fired the weapon, watching as the soup can was drilled through. The hole was exactly where he had figured it would go. Scratching at his short blonde hair, he couldn’t figure out how he had done it. “Damn.”

Despite the pain that had torn through his body, the wounds he had sustained still healing, he was ecstatic. And worried. It was an impossible shot, but somehow he had been able to do what no one could have without at least a scope. It was like his brain had turned into a ballistic computer, and his eyes functioned like sniper scopes.

It was the damndest thing.

xxx

“Calm yourself,” Lei-Kung said, glancing over at Xander. They were on their way to the Yu-Ti’s ruling hall, a number of soldiers in his army already having gathered there and in other key places within the capital of K’un-L’un.

“Yeah,” Xander said, turning his attention back to the pathway that they were walking on. A small wisp of green smoke or mist had caught his eye, off to the side, amongst some of the chimneys that dotted the roofs of the houses that lined the alleyway. John Aman, the Prince of Orphans, Amazing Man, back in action once again.

“If all goes as planned, this will be bloodless,” the Thunderer declared softly, ever present of the ears that could be listening. The plan was simple, strike the ruling hall, prevent reinforcements from arriving to reclaim the hall while they apprehended the August Emperor in Jade. John had already scouted ahead and made sure that Yu-Ti was inside and could be easily found. The hope was that none of the men of the City would lead a counterstrike against them if the Iron Fist was to present Yu-Ti along with a list of his crimes. That was the idea anyway.

“And if wishes were horses…” Xander trailed off as a loud boom sounded from behind them. He turned around and watched as a gigantic flash appeared on the side of one of the nearby mountains. A blaze of white energy crackled, and his heart sank as he knew what it was.

“Xao,” the Thunderer stated, frowning. That was one contingency they could not have planned for, even if they had foreseen the possibility.

The green mist coalesced behind the pair. “What do you wish to do now?”

Xander suppressed a shudder. He whipped around to glare at the robed man. “Don’t do that.”

“If Xao is coming, then we need to stop him,” the Thunderer declared, his heart sinking as well. Of all the minutes of all the hours of all the days for this to occur, it had to happen now. At least the few people on the street did not seem to think something was amiss. For the uninformed, it looked like a display for the Tournament.

“Your army will strike, and you have no means of communicating with them,” the Prince of Orphans pointed out. “Your revolution will take place, with or without you.”

“And the Army of Thunder has not trained to take on forces with Earth weapons. They would be easily cut down.” Lei-Kung had no delusions of the chances of taking both the ruling hall as well defend against the invaders if he spilt his forces.

Xander sighed, looking around at the narrow alleyway they were standing in. He wondered if the alley that sold the cha siu bao that Orson liked was nearby. “I’ll confront Xao.”

“What?” Lei-Kung said, turning from his conversation with John over battle tactics and what their strategy should now be.

“I am the Iron Fist,” Xander declared, his jaw set. “This is my City. And I must defend her. Is that not the righteous path, War Master?”

The Thunderer nodded grimly, knowing that despite his growing strength and skill, Xander had little chance of defending the City alone. And he knew that Xander knew that as well. Their little revolution may have just doomed K’un-L’un before it even started. “That is correct.”

“You two finish what you started. I’ll hold Xao as long as I can,” Xander said, looking back up at the growing portal. “Bring what forces you can when you’re finished. And, uh, just make sure that they’re safe. And that they get out of here after this is done.”

He knew that there was some time, and that there were a few weapons stored at his residence that might help him buy some time. It wouldn’t be enough to turn the tide of the battle that was to come though. He doubted anything would. An ocean of men would crash upon him, and not even the most stubborn could stand.

“Wait,” the Prince of Orphans commanded before Xander could run off. He looked at the boy, easily seeing the determination in his eyes. Encompassed within them were all the injustices of the universe. “I will see about trying to get you some help. It will not be easy though.”

Looking over at Lei-Kung, the Prince of Orphans spoke, “And you, old friend, finish your revolution. We may need your Army of Thunder soon enough.”

xxx

“Amy,” Ms. Summers said in greeting as she noticed the young girl walk into her art gallery. “Was there something wrong with the Casket?”

“No,” Amy said as she approached, reaching into her purse and pulling out the folded list she had stored inside. She flattened it out and placed it on the counter that Ms. Summers stood behind. “It’s fine. I’m actually here about something else.”

“Oh?” Ms. Summers looked down at the printout that Amy had just laid out. One of the items had been highlighted. She recognized it immediately, the mask having been one of the pieces that she had asked her dealer to specially acquire for her. It had just cleared customs a little while ago and had come into the gallery only a few days before. “I was planning on keep this one for myself.”

“Yeah, that’s going to be a problem,” Amy replied.

Ms. Summer looked up at the girl, and sighed. “Is this another dangerous magical artifact?”

“Yes, it’s another dangerous magical artifact.” Amy nodded, somewhat in sympathy. “I’m going to need to buy this one too.”

“Did Giles tell you about this one also?” Ms. Summers inquired as she checked on the gallery’s computer system to determine where the mask was being stored.

Amy shook her head slightly, hesitating a little. “Uh, not exactly. I found out myself and thought I should get it first. Just in case.”

Joyce didn’t know how to respond to that, but trusted that Amy wouldn’t be in the position she was in if she didn’t have the judgment to make the right decisions. She doubted that Xander would have given the young girl so much money if he didn’t trust her. Although, Jenny was likely in the same position as well. “It’s in the back. I’ll go and get it.”

“Thanks. I’ll wait here,” Amy said, watching as Ms. Summers walked around the counter and headed towards the storage room.

xxx

“What’s going on?” Vi asked, walking into the hall that served as the remembrance chamber for the past Iron Fists. She had noticed that Xander had entered in quite a hurry, long before he had planned to come back. “What happened?”

“Xao,” Xander said simply, unbuckling a belt from around the displayed uniform of a past Iron Fist. He strapped it around his waist and clasped it shut. He looked over at the potential, as well as the companion that was standing by her side. “What’s he doing here?”

Vi looked down to her side and shrugged, the dog standing there looking up at her, tongue lolling out of his mouth. “I don’t know. I guess he likes to follow me around. Xao’s here?”

“Yeah,” Xander said, walking further up the hall, passing a few more Iron Fists. He pulled a sheathed sword from the wall and placed it over his shoulder. Not exactly the Green Destiny, but it had its own enchanted history. “And he’s coming strong.”

Vi nodded and walked to the wall as well, looking for a suitable weapon.

Xander clipped on a pair of butterfly knives to his chest as he watched as she approached a wudang jian that hung on a post stuck in the wall behind one of the older uniforms. “No.”

“What?” Vi said, freezing with her hand in the air.

“You’re not coming with me,” Xander told her, noticing the disappointment and hint of hurt on her face. He had to ignore that for now though. “I need you here.”

“I can fight,” Vi said strongly.

Xander nodded. “I don’t doubt that. But, I need you here to protect the others. You and Colleen and Faith. I need you all here. I need to know that you’re all safe. Now is not the time to take a stand towards feminism.”

“Bu-“ Vi tried to make out.

Xander sighed and turned to her. “I know. I know what it’s like to be on the sidelines. But, now is not your time. If the City falls, take them through the tunnel network to the gate. Take as many civilians as you can with you. It’ll be your only way out.”

He picked up a halberd and headed towards the door, picking up an axe in his other hand as well. He stopped at the entryway and turned around. “I’m probably not coming back from this one. Tell Jenny that…tell her something romantic and tell her I said it. I wish I could have been a better teacher to you, but you turned out pretty great in spite of me. I’m trusting you to protect them.”

The Iron Fist left without waiting for a response. Nor did he turn around, knowing that he could not bear it.

xxx

Director Fury walked softly on the grass, stopping a fair distance away from the man firing the rifle. He didn’t want to spook the man after all. That would be poor gun safety. He waited for the man to finish off the magazine. “Clint.”

Clint safetied his weapon and turned around to look behind him. He smiled and stood up, dusting himself off as he approached his old friend. “How’s it going?”

“Can’t complain,” Nick said as he looked the man up and down. Clint looked pretty good, all things considered. “Shouldn’t you be resting?”

The marine waved off the criticism. “You know doctors. Pain in the ass. I’m fine.”

“Yeah?” Fury said, as they walked over to the blanket that Clint had been lying on. “Well, I’m with the docs on this one. It’s going to be at least another month before you can go back to active duty.”

Nick looked down at the rifle, and then up the range at the targets. He bent down and picked up a spotting scope, looking through it. There had been a massacre of soup cans and glass bottles. All normal, except something didn’t seem to match up where he was. He looked down at the rifle, noticing that the Heckler & Koch SR9(T) was missing its scope. Clint had been shooting with the iron sights. Only.

“Yeah, something odd’s been going on,” Clint said sheepishly as Nick turned to look at him in question.

“What’s that?” the SHIELD director asked.

Clint shrugged, not knowing exactly how to vocalize it all. “I’ve been firing without a scope for hours. I don’t need it anymore. It’s like, I can see where the bullet’s going to hit. And then just do it. Range not really an issue. I’ve tried with pistols too. I barely need to aim anymore.”

Fury looked down range again, the possibilities bouncing around in his head. “We may need to test this further.”

“Yes, sir,” Clint said.

xxx

“And again I said: “Yield unto me and I shall spare your lives.” And again they invited me to—ladies, pardon my language—pleasure both my mother and my father.” Dog Brother #1 slapped the table and laughed aloud. “So I chopped off all their heads and laid waste to the village.”

Fat Cobra burst into gregarious laughter as well, pausing only to pop another ball of meat into his mouth. Next to him, Bride of Nine Spiders was actually smiling, though she still laughed her extremely eerie laugh.

“Ah, my dogs did dine like kings that night, let me tell you,” Dog Brother #1 declared. He took a sip from his small sake cup, and then pointed towards the man at the far end of the round table. “See? Even the Steel Phoenix finds it funny.”

The Steel Phoenix bowed his still bandaged head, one eye patched over with gauze. A hint of a smile was upon his lips. “Let us say I can appreciate the efficiency of your blade’s poetry, Dog Brother.”

Fat Cobra pounded a fist on the table, rattling a few dishes and bowls. “Efficiency? Poetry? I just liked the part where he chopped off all their heads! Ha ha!”

A voice from behind called out to the group. “The Immortal Weapons, laughing as one. I never would’ve thought I’d live to see such a day. I find this sight most encouraging.”

The Immortal Weapons turned as one to see the man that approached them.

The Prince of Orphans stood before them, hood down. He looked at them all in turn, feeling their accumulated power. “Because I come here with a proposition.”

“What kind of proposition?” Fat Cobra asked tentatively, wondering why the oldest of them was here now. He had shown no such inclination before.

“I have a war to fight. And I want you fight it with me.” The Prince of Orphans approached closer, standing between Fat Cobra and the Bride of Nine Spiders. “May I sit?”

Fat Cobra just looked up at his fellow Immortal Weapon, digesting the information. He pushed the Bride into the next stool. “Move, woman, move! The Prince of Orphans wishes to sit!”

The Prince sat down, crossing his arms over his chest. “A madman on Earth is conspiring to destroy K’un-L’un. He’s not the first, but thus far he’s been the only one who might actually do it. That K’un-L’un is joined with the Heart of Heaven now makes this possible.”

Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter, still a little bruised, looked over at him. She could sense the things that the Prince of Orphans didn’t say. “What does the fate of K’un-L’un mean to us?”

The Prince of Orphans looked over at her, bowing his head in deference. “If K’un-L’un is destroyed while part of the Heart of Heaven, then all of our Cities will go with it.”

Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter let out a small gasp of surprise.

“Lies!” Davos shouted, smacking aside his cup. His right arm flashed briefly, a hint of a fist appearing. He stood up and stalked off, not wanting to hear more.

The Prince of Orphans called after him. “If I’m the one lying, Davos, then who is it that you’re rushing to confront?”

xxx

“Giles?” Amy said as she opened the door, somewhat surprised by his appearance at her door. “What are you doing here?”

“Can I come in?” the Watcher asked, stepping inside as Amy stepped back. He moved into the foyer as the young witch closed the front door.

“What can I do for you?” Amy said, still wondering why he had come. She could guess though. And she knew that he wasn’t exactly pleased.

“Joyce called me,” Giles replied, moving towards the living room. “She said that you purchased an artifact today. Something dangerous?”

“Yeah,” Amy confirmed, though she wasn’t exactly happy that Buffy’s mother had called Giles to essentially tell on her. To think, purchases in such places usually bore an implicit confidentiality. “A zombie mask of Ovu Mobani. C’mon in.”

She led him into the living room where she had the mask on the coffee table that lay in the center of the space. The text she had been looking at previously lay open near it. Amy took a seat on the couch, and motioned for Giles to sit on the one nearby as well. “Do you want something to drink?”

“No,” Giles said distractedly as he looked at the mask. The wood had been carved intricately with ivory or bone inserts sharpened into the likeness of fangs at the bottom. “What…”

“Oh, yeah, I took care of it,” Amy said, glancing down at the wooden mask that she had broken in half, the enchantment disrupted, rendering the mask useless.

“You broke it in half,” Giles said, still staring at the artifact.

Amy shrugged, as if it was not that big of a deal. “Well, I used a saw.”

“You should have come to me first,” Giles chided her, looking her in the eye. He shook his head, clearly unhappy. “These are dangerous magicks you are dealing with. It is not something to simply play around with.”

“I know,” Amy said calmly. “I researched this carefully before I did anything. Then I took care of it. I do know what I’m doing. Sometimes. Ms. Calendar has been teaching me. And you.”

“The Council-“ Giles started to lecture.

“Do you go to the Watchers’ Council for everything?” Amy broke in exasperated. “There was a situation, and I dealt with it. It wasn’t that big a deal, so I felt no need to consult with you first.”

“And if the situation did not go as anticipated?” Giles pushed, his voice growing tight. “You do not have the experience to deal with such things. You are still young, and there is still much for you to learn.”

“Maybe there is,” Amy said, looking at him strangely. “But, I’m Ms. Calendar’s student, and she’ll be back soon. We can talk about it then. In the meantime, I’m the one that noticed that the mask was on the list. You have a lot of things on your plate, with Buffy and Kendra…I can catch things you miss. I’m not as inexperienced as you think.”

“Amy. I have my own experience with magic. Things I’ve done in my youth. Mistakes I’ve made.” Giles said, trying to calm down. He reached up and took of his glasses, his head starting to ache. Replacing them he looked at her, trying to convey how important the things he was telling her were. “I just don’t want you to have to go through the same things that I did.”

Amy nodded sympathetically. “I know. I know what happened with Eyghon. But, I don’t do this stuff for fun. Not anymore. Not like that.”

“In the future, please come to me first,” Giles said, a hint of pleading in his voice. “The stakes are too high to play around. I know that you have learned a great deal, but I don’t want that to go to your head. This is still dangerous, even if you do know what you’re doing.”

Amy knew that he was just trying to look out for her, despite how stifling it could be. She nodded reluctantly. “Alright. Next time, I’ll talk to you first before I do anything.”

“Thank you,” Giles said, truthfully though he was still a little annoyed. And, he wasn’t exactly sure how much he should trust her promise. She was still a teenager after all.

The witch hesitated before speaking further. There were limits to how much she should show. If Xander and Ms. Calendar were correct. “I trust you. Even if I don’t trust the Watchers’ Council all the way.”

xxx

Xander stood on the flat rock of the mountain side, staring at the white light of the portal. It had nearly reached full power, and he could see the shapes of bodies waiting to pour into the City. Larger, and far sharper things stood mixed among them. He didn’t want to know what those were. If the numbers were large enough, they would spread like a plague across all of K’un-L’un, and perhaps beyond. Nothing would be able stop them if they were allowed to invade completely. He would not be able to stop them all himself.

His only hope was to hold the line long enough for the Thunderer’s army to finish and all of the fighters, of the Revolution and not, to come and defend their City. Or for the other Immortal Weapons to show up. If they even cared enough to. Not that he would be alive to see it through to the end though. It was the no-win scenario.

The Iron Fist tightened his hold on his weapons, staring at the shapes that were sharpening ever more in their definition. It would not be long before they would be able to breach the barrier between worlds. He thought back through the chain of Iron Fists before him.

They had all had moments like this. The Pirates of Pinghai Bay. The armies of the Khan. The British at the Taku Forts. Raiders in the deserts of America. The Germans in the trenches of France. This time it was he who stood on the mountain. This time it was he who stood alone before the fury of an army. This time it was he would stand before the many heads of HYDRA.

The no-win scenario. This was his Kobayashi Maru, only there would be no cheating.

The portal flashed again as it reached full power, the green-uniformed soldiers of HYDRA rushing in for the attack. They would provide support for the technicians to come in and enlarge the portal from this end, growing the linkage so that the bulk of their forces could invade.

“I wish I had some guns.” Xander rushed forward as well, weapons flashing as he deflected weapons fire, some back towards his attackers. Mixing in close, he prevented his enemies from firing indiscriminately. Of course, the larger numbers meant that he could swing without worrying about hitting a friendly.

The benefit of being alone.

xxx

The Thunderer swung his sword in an arc, beheading a Shaolin terror priest. He moved with the motion, and lunged into a jab with his blade, impaling another black robed priest before it could strike. All around him the women of his army was moving in, taking out any terror priest that sought to repel them.

The Green Mist of Death floated around them, striking out when he could, often to cover a blind spot or to counter in the spaces where the Army of Thunder could not.

“John,” the Thunderer called out, parrying a couple of spear thrusts before kicking out and sending two terror priests to the stone floor. His sword flashed again, and more of the enemy fell before his might. He was not the war master of K’un-L’un for nothing. “Find the Yu-Ti!”

The green mist wobbled for a moment before floating off, looking for the man that they sought to overthrow.

It did not take long. The Yu-Ti was attempting to flee through a secret passageway to the Randall Gate, a pathway that would lead to Earth. Unfortunately for Nu-An, that possibility had been planned for, and they had posted warriors there.

While incorporeal he could not travel through the densest of material, and so had to take the long way around. It was some time before he arrived at the room that held the Randall Gate, and by the time he did, it was over.

“I have long dreamt of this movement,” the young woman said, her sword point at the Yu-Ti’s throat. She looked at the man that had long subjugated her people. “You are now a prisoner of the Army of Thunder.”

John recorporealized, appearing before the gathered forces in front of the gate. “Bring him quickly back to the ruling hall. Xao is invading. You are needed elsewhere.”

The servant girl nodded, her grim satisfaction at winning their freedom overshadowed by the new threat to their City. She looked at the female warriors gathered around her. “Come, our City needs us.”

xxx

“What are you doing?” Davos shouted, looking down at the evidence of battle that littered the ruling hall. He saw women rushing out, some still battling a few terror priests.

“This is no longer your City,” Lei-Kung said, turning towards his son, a spear in his hand this time. “Affairs of state do not concern you.”

“Maybe so,” Davos said, looking around in distaste. As loath as he was to admit it, his father was right. As the Immortal Weapon of K’un-Zi, he could not interfere in internal matters of state in another City, revolution included. Such things would be dishonorable and an invitation to war. It didn’t mean, of course, that intermediaries couldn’t be utilized. “But, don’t tell me that you believe this ridiculous conspiracy that Xao wishes to destroy K’un-L’un. That the Heart of Heaven is at risk. Xao’s grudge is my grudge; Crane Mother’s too—for the crimes against K’un-Zi.”

Lei-Kung simply looked at his son, disappointed. More than that, he was ashamed. Ashamed at his son, as well as himself. In all likelihood Xander would die alone, far from home and those that he sought so valiantly to save. And yet, this was his son.

“Tell me you have not been so easily duped by the Iron Fist and his stooge, the Prince of Orphans,” Steel Phoenix challenged in anger. “Crane Mother only wanted to destroy the Iron Fist. Xao is merely her puppet. She has said nothing of destroying K’un-L’un. Iron Fist is lying so that you will protect him from us—Father, don’t be a fool.”

Lei-Kung thought he could detect a hint of pleading in his son’s voice. But, he could not be sure that it was not simply wishful thinking. “Davos…they are maniacs intent on destroying us all. Join us, boy. There are innocent lives at risk that have nothing to do with everything that’s wrong between you and I.”

Davos frowned in anger, his phantom hand clenching itself into being. He reached down and picked up a fallen spear, launching himself at the Thunderer. “I’ve had quite enough of you sanctimonious old men daring to call me “boy.” Old. Man.”

Lei-Kung parried the blow with his own spear, the metal heads glancing off of each other. He twisted it up to deflect the thrust haft of the spear that Davos wielded. “There is no ulterior motive here. No one is trying to trick you or manipulate you as you have tricked and manipulated so many, my son-“

Davos swung his spear in an arc, catching his father in the back and sending him skidding back.

“Xao will destroy us all.” Lei-Kung rushed forward, using his spear as a pole in order to vault himself over at the Steel Phoenix. Kicking his son in the face, he sent him flying across the room. “Crane Mother, Xao, they’ve both betrayed you! Used you! That’s what this is really about, isn’t it? You’ve finally met your treacherous match and can’t believe you’ve been bested.”

“Lies. More lies,” Davos grunted out as he slid himself up the wall he had landed against. He glared at his father in anger and hatred.

“Think about that, Son,” the Thunderer said softly, as he came up closer. “For once in your life, ask yourself—how many more people can conspire endlessly against you? Me, Yu-Ti, Crane Mother, Xao, Shou-Lao, Orson Randall, Xander Harris…”

Davos looked up at his father in anger, lips tight.

“Why is it always someone else that’s to blame?” Lei-Kung asked of his son. “Isn’t it possible that once…just once in your life there might be something you don’t know? A crooked angle you yourself have not conceived?”

Davos looked away, whispering to himself, “no…”

“You know what the Seven Cities are up against, Son. In that black heart of yours, you know.” Lei-Kung sighed and walked towards the exit of the ruling hall. He stopped after a few steps and turned around. “If you decide that just this once you’ve been beaten at your own twisted game, you know where to find me. The Iron Fist needs your help. We…need your help.”

Davos watched as his father left. He grumbled to himself, “liar…you’re liars, all of you…damn you all to Hell.”

Though he was less sure of himself this time.

xxx

Xander yelled out as he swung his arm around, wildly firing a submachine gun that he had picked up from the body of a dead HYDRA soldier. It forced a few more of them back on his right flank, but it mattered little. The forces of HYDRA kept closing. Some had hardly made it through, descending the mountain rapidly towards the city proper. He could only hope that there would be defenders there to meet them.

Dropping the empty weapon, he drew the butterfly knives that he had strapped to his chest, leaping forward, the metal blades flashing. He swung them, blood spraying as he took two men in the throats. Xander ducked and weaved through the massive army of men, stabbing and slashing his way through.

Gargles and screams of pain sounded wherever he turned. But, he ignored it all, focusing on his actions. Not the consequences.

He knew that he was already tiring. Blood flowed from a dozen open wounds, from cuts to burns to bullet holes. But, the Iron Fist knew that if he thought about it for too long or stopped, he would drop. He looked up exhaustedly, staring at the men that constantly flowed through the open and growing portal. “C’mon you bastards!”

He threw himself once more into the fray, doing his best to maximize the ground that he was holding. The knives glowed with power as he slashed again, blasting a number of HYDRA men back through the gate.

It wasn’t long before they crowded him though, the arm of a giant mechanical construct striking him across the chest. The blow threw the Iron Fist across the cliff top, rolling to a stop against a small boulder.

The metal monster had been the first to enter through the now just large enough gate. It would not be the last if the Iron Fist could not stop it.

He coughed, blood coming up as Xander tried to get to his feet. He stumbled though, lacking the energy to rise. As he saw the forces of HYDRA advance, Xander felt himself being helped to his feet and laid against the boulder. He looked back over his shoulder, head swimming as he saw Fat Cobra place him carefully. He tried to smile, but it hurt too much. “You came.”

“We could not allow you to have all the fun,” Fat Cobra said, breaking into a grin. “Rest, brother. It is our turn now.”

The rest of the Immortal Weapons threw themselves into the fight. Bride of Nine Spiders ripped open her shirt, letting loose a torrent of black arachnids which engulfed a hundred men. She laughed as her Vaulting Mantis Spine-Snap broke the bones of a legion of soldiers. Dog Brother #1 unsheathed his swords, ripping through HYDRA’s left side. His pack of dogs ran at his side, watching his flanks and ripping out the throats of any that dared get too close. The warrior’s Blood-Hunger’s Blade cut men in twain. Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter leapt upon the shoulders of a hapless HYDRA soldier, her Stabbing Newlywed lashing out in precise strikes to the end the lives of those that dared approach too closely. Fat Cobra rushed back and forth, only needing to tap his enemies at the velocity he was moving in order to kill them. His Exquisite Speed Release ended those that tried to escape. The Green Mist of Death descended as John Aman threw HYDRA men off the mountain and against the rocky cliffs. Hell’s Unfurling Hurricane merciless in its fury, leaving only broken bodies in its wake.

Xander breathed in deep as he saw the battle unfold, sighing in relief. He used the reprieve as best as he could, attempting to use what remained of his chi to heal himself.

xxx

Davos stood at the peak of a neighboring mountaintop, surveying the battle that was being waged below. As strong and powerful as the Immortal Weapons were, they could not last forever. He could see the relentless waves of HYDRA, knowing that it would not be long before the invasion could fully begin. Before long K’un-L’un would fall before Xao’s forces and Crane Mother would take over the City. As was their mutual plan.

Only, there was a doubt in his mind now. How it had all come together so easily. Xao appearing at the perfect time. In the perfect place to supply what he needed to complete his revenge. Crane Mother, offering power that she alone could offer him. It was all so easy. Too easy. He saw the man in question walk through the portal, directing his men to the attack.

Through the clash of battle and the breaking of men, he heard Xao shout, “Forward. Push them back. Tonight all the Cities of Heaven will burn.”

The Steel Phoenix looked on in disgust, wishing that he could turn away. His Father had been right, and he had been wrong. “Damn you, Father. Damn you, Xao.”

He crouched down, gathering his chi into his core before leaping off of the mountain top and into the battle that was being waged for the very existence of the Cities of Heaven.

xxx

“Where are we going?” Faith asked, as Vi led the group through a long tunnel. She had heard the sounds of fighting, even going so far as to see the Army of Thunder start to take on the HYDRA soldiers that had managed to enter the City. There weren’t many, but enough to force them to slow their advance, despite the fact that the men of K’un-L’un had all taken up arms against the invading forces.

The Shaolin terror priests had slowly begun to shut down after the Yu-Ti’s capture, and though they did not know it, Lei-Kung was attempting to figure out a way to command them to turn and start defending the City as they were meant to.

All Faith knew was that she wanted in on the fight.

“Xander says that we should be prepared to leave,” Vi replied, trying to determine which path they should be going through. The tunnels all looked the same, and the map was extraordinarily hard to use. While she wanted to fight, she knew that the small group of defenders would be of little use in turning the tide of battle.

She glanced behind her, noticing the tense expressions on peoples’ faces. A large group had gathered behind them, mostly the young trying to avoid the battle that was descending upon the City. A number of them were the young children from Dog Brother’s pack. She knew deep down that they were needed there, as much as she wanted to go and join her friend.

“Xander said,” Diana repeated, frowning. It had not gotten passed her that Vi and a number of the rest of their group seemed to have a great deal more information about events than they did. He had been selective with what information he had shared.

“Yes, we need to make sure that these people get out of here safely,” Vi said, turning to face the Watcher, her eyes narrowing. She was about to speak further when she heard a growl. Vi looked down, noticing that the dog beside her was sniffing intently and staring further down the tunnel to the left. “What is it, boy?”

The dog looked up at her for a moment before turning his attention back to the tunnel. He didn’t like what he was smelling and he could almost taste the dark magic that emanated from the dark tunnel. He bolted, almost before he could actualize what it was, teeth flashing as he clamped upon the neck of the oddly still active Shaolin terror priest that had somehow made its way rapidly into their tunnel and had been about to stab the girl that had fed him.

The dog swung his head back and forth, paws clawing for purchase on the magical construct’s voluminous black robes. With a final clench of his teeth, he felt the cloak lose substance and fall to the ground, the monk’s metal mask clanging on the stone floor.

He walked back to the group, panting and swinging his tail in happiness.

Vi bent down as the dog approached her, scratching his head in gratitude. “Did you do that to protect me, boy?”

The dog bent its head down once as if in understanding.

Faith rolled her eyes as her fellow potential continued to pet the dog.

“We should go,” Nancy said, looking behind her and wondering if there were more terror priests around.

xxx

Davos swung his glowing hand, smashing into the face of a HYDRA soldier that approached him. It was very apparent that they had not been informed that he was supposed to be an ally. He made his way forward, contemptuously snapping the necks and limbs of those that dared try to slow his approach. He had already stopped many, his skill and power tipping the battle toward them.

“What’re you doing?” Xander said, turning his head to see Davos standing at his side, oddly not taking the time to strike at him.

“Correcting a mistake,” the Steel Phoenix said grimly, still not liking the fact that he had been misled. It burned him like nothing else.

Xander was about to retort before noticing a siren sound. He looked at the portal, seeing a large object approach them on tracks. The portal had grown large enough to allow it to enter. The memory of a half-remembered vision suddenly snapped into clarity. He knew what the train held. “That’s full of enough explosive to start a chain reaction that will destroy all the Cities. I need to stop it.”

Davos scoffed as he saw the boy attempt to push off of the boulder. The Iron Fist could barely stand, and his robes were ripped and bloody. “No. I will stop the train. Honor demands no less.”

He noticed Xao creeping around, trying to get around the battle that was not turning HYDRA’s way. “You must stop him. He is the leader of this operation.”

“Xao,” Xander said, noticing the man that was stealthily attempting to get away. He started forward, looking down at the arm on his as he was held back.

“Wait,” the Steel Phoenix said, placing a hand upon the Iron Fist’s chest. “You are in no shape to fight anyone. Not even someone like him. Take this.”

Xander felt as part of Davos’ chi flowed into him, strengthening his limbs and healing the worst of his injuries. He was still in bad shape, but he was no longer in danger of simply keeling over due to the exhaustion of walking.

Xander looked up at the man, feeling gratitude despite himself. “We aren’t…we aren’t over.”

“I imagine not,” Davos said, looking the Iron Fist in the eye. It took all of his strength to do so. “Now go.”

The Iron Fist nodded and ran off, leaping off of the cliff top after Xao.

xxx

“I’m putting together a group,” Director Fury said, sitting down on the threadbare couch that lay against a corner in the main room of the large cabin. He accepted a cup of coffee before speaking further. “Special abilities of one type or another.”

“The Avengers?” Clint said, taking a seat in a chair across from the other man.

Nick said nothing, noncommittal in his silence.

The marine smiled. “Word gets around. Stark right?”

“And another,” Nick replied, nodding. “But, they’re not military. And Tony’s a wild card. I need a leader. Someone experienced, and someone that can keep up with them.”

He knew that it would not please some of those above him. The history of programs such as these tended to be remembered. And that history was filled with blood and death and failure.

“You want me,” Clint said, somewhat surprised. He shook his head as if in disbelief. “I have responsibilities to my men. And they’re still over there. With what I have now, I can look out for them better.”

“Steakley’s been doing good,” the SHIELD director said reassuredly. “Your men are fine. Things are getting worse, and I don’t think that the team is going to cut it playing it by ear. The threats we’re facing here…you’re needed here. I need you here. I don’t want to have to make it an order.”

“Can I think about it?” Clint asked, though he knew what the answer would ultimately be.

Nick nodded. “We still need to know the full extent of your abilities, and see if we can’t find out what the source of them is. But, yeah, I can give you some time.”

Although Fury knew what the answer would ultimately be as well.

xxx

“Xao!” Xander shouted, approaching the man as they stood at the edge of a steep cliff. The HYDRA leader had chosen poorly and had stumbled off the correct path. He could hear the battle still being waged above them. He could hear how it was going. “Give up. It’s over.”

Xao turned around and stared contemptuously at the Champion that dared stop him. He snarled, “to you? Scion of the legacy that killed my great-grandfather, my grandmother, and so many of my bloodline? Never.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Xander replied shaking his head. He raised his hands, trying to placate the man. “Call your men off.”

He waved a hand behind him at the battle that was still ongoing as Xao said nothing. “It’s over! Your men are being beaten back.”

A large boom sounded as the train exploded prematurely. A part of Xander felt sorrow that Davos had given his life to save the Cities of Heaven. A tiny part, but he understood the nature of sacrifice. And maybe even redemption. “And your plan has failed.”

Xao looked at the smoke that curled up from what had remained of a design that had been intricately planned out for so long. It had all come down to this. “I will never surrender.”

“You’re not really in a good place,” Xander said, coming closer. “You’re not in a position to bargain for your life here.”

“That assumes I’m a rational actor on this stage. That my objective is victory, and that my survival is paramount above all.” Xao smirked, insanity bubbling up in his eyes. They started to spark with power, small lightning bolts cracking out. “It is not. I will be avenged.”

Xander’s eyes widened in shock as he saw the power. He could feel it, and it felt familiar. “By what? By Grabthar's hammer? By the sons of Worvan? Your men are gone, Xao. You’ve failed. There’s no one left to avenge you.”

“Oh?” Xao said mockingly, his lips curled cruelly. He turned around to face the edge, looking out at the City that he hated so much. He inched closer, staring down into the abyss. Turning his head, he looked over at the Iron Fist. “There is an eighth City.”

He stepped off the edge, his arms outstretched.

xxx

“Xao?” the Prince of Orphans asked, looking over as Xander approached them. The battle was over, the forces of HYDRA pushed back through the gate and the machinery that had created them destroyed. The City, all of their Cities, had been saved.

“He’s gone. Dead.” Xander shook his head, looking at the bodies that lay littered on the ground, blood mixing with snow and ash. “We won.”

It was a question as much as a statement. And he wasn’t sure which war he actually meant.

“I have received word, the City has been taken, Yu-Ti removed. Your revolution has succeeded,” John Aman stated, looking behind him at the City of Heaven that lay in the valley beneath. It was not his, but he felt glad that it was safe. “It is over. It is all over.”

Xander looked at the half of a train engine that managed to get through the gate. It was all wreckage, twisted and burnt. Scrap metal now. “Davos sacrificed himself to save the City. I guess he didn’t hate us as much as he thought he did. He died with honor.”

“Not quite,” a voice said from beside the smoking wreckage. The man, covered in soot and splattered with blood, walked forward, the near ubiquitous mocking gone from his lips. He looked around at the devastation and at the lights of the City below.

The Iron Fist looked on as the Steel Phoenix walked out of the ashes and smoke. “Yeah, it would be like that wouldn’t it.”

Davos turned as he heard people approach, his father at the forefront.

“The people have been freed,” Lei-Kung said, as the Immortal Weapons crowded around him. “The remaining HYDRA warriors will be rooted out and imprisoned until we can determine what to do with them all.”

“Good,” Xander said, glad that things had worked out. For the most part anyway. “Jenny and the others?”

“They are safe,” the servant girl said, from beside the Thunderer. “The battle passed them by.”

“You did well then,” Xander said, smiling briefly. He looked around at everyone, even Davos. “And K’un-L’un owes you all a debt of gratitude.”

Davos did not respond as he continued to look out across the City that he had just saved. His home, from so very long ago. A place of happiness at one point, and of deeper regret.

“What matters most is that we find a leader for the City, one who can carry us out of this uncertain time,” Lei-Kung said, knowing that the work was far from finished.

“Why not you?” Xander asked, knowing that he was the most wise and honorable man in the City that he knew. He glanced over at the servant girl as well. “And, I think you’ve find your new Thunderer as well.”

The former servant girl looked at him in astonishment, unable to speak.

Davos approached them, his arms outstretched in front of him. “Crane Mother has cut me off from her chi-source. I am the Steel Phoenix no longer. And, as such, I wish to present myself to you and your mercy.”

Xander just looked at him, unsure of what to do.

“I am a criminal. I am your prisoner.” Davos turned towards his father. “The Crane Mother has your journals, father. And I have worked with Xao, and HYDRA, and I killed Orson Randall…”

The former Immortal Weapon fell to his knees in shame, his arms above him and his head down. “Punish me. I have done things. I have done such terrible things.”

Lei-Kung turned his head towards Xander, question in his eyes.

Xander looked away, smelling the stench of death as the bodies cooled. He could feel the anger and hatred in his heart that could easily twist and lead down a path that would make him as dark and cold as Davos was. Or was that once was.

They had taken so many lives that day. Men who fought not for their future, but for a paycheck. Still, they had been men nonetheless. The Immortal Weapons, champions of their respective Cities, had acted and reacted without conscious thought, doing what needed to be done to protect people. Their duty. Life takers, necessary sometimes, many times, that was the burden that they carried. Yet, the path of the warrior was not to be found only in death. Sometimes the path of the true warrior lay in something else. In a more noble, honorable, direction. Sometimes it meant forgiveness. “Consider it…a reduced sentence for good behavior.”

The former Thunderer and now new Yu-Ti looked down at his son. “Return with us to the shining City, my son. You will find your fate there.”

Xander looked up, taking in the other Immortal Weapons. “Xao told me, before he died, that there is another City. An eighth city. He could be lying…but, I don’t know.”

xxx

“Where will you go now?” Xander asked, as the other Immortal Weapons, save Davos took a seat around the table. They had cleaned and healed themselves as much as possible, looking once again as the mighty warriors that they were.

“We all have responsibilities,” Fat Cobra said, unnaturally serious. “But, we have decided that this Eighth City bears investigation.”

“We need to determine if it is truth or a lie. It could be a threat to us all,” Dog Brother #1 added. “And you?”

“I have things on Earth I need to take care of too,” Xander said, shrugging. The myth or truth of an Eighth City did not mean as much to him. Not because he didn’t think it could be a threat, but because there was little that he could do. He would leave it in the hands of the more capable, while he occupied himself with his own Earthly duties. “Um…there’s your dog that we need to talk about.”

“Ah yes,” Dog Brother #1 said, smiling. He had known about the missing member of his pack for some time. “Yong has taken a particular liking to your girl.”

“So that’s his name,” Xander said. “Anyway, she really likes him too.”

“He has the blood of the foo dog running through him,” Dog Brother #1 stated, nodding his head. “He will serve her well.”

“Thanks,” Xander said nodding in gratitude.

“The Randall Gate remains active, and can be extended to link all of our realities,” the Prince of Orphans said, looking at them all and ending with the newest of them. “I know that some of us have only dreamed of Earth, and have never seen its sights for ourselves. Perhaps we shall look you up sometime.”

Xander only shrugged, not knowing how the motley crew would be taken. “Lei-Kung knows where I can be found.”

Something struck Xander though. “I guess this is another Tournament that has no end.”

Ironic that an Iron Fist was at the heart of this disruption as well.

xxx

“Father, are you sure this is right?” Davos said, as the pair of them walked deeper into the large rocky chamber. He stared at the glowing object in the center. An object of reverence and of past hate. It was behind him now though, it had to be. “I should be in a dungeon.”

“No, I’m certain you’ll punish yourself enough,” Lei-Kung said, looking at the warm glow as well. “During your long solitary hours here. This is an important task, for soon the dragon will be reborn from her egg.”

He walked closer seeing the faint dark center as the slumbering dragon waited to be reborn into her next cycle of life. “You will protect her, until she needs no such aid. You will keep those foolish enough to approach her doors at bay.”

Lei-Kung looked over at his son. “Long enough, my son…long enough, I hope, for you to find some solace.”

xxx

“It’s over then,” Jenny said, sitting down beside Xander as he sat contemplating the events that had unfurled.

He looked up at her, smiling as she put a hand on his leg. “Yeah.”

“And Davos?” Jenny asked, wondering what she truly wanted the answer to be.

“He’ll pay for what’s he done.” Xander looked at her, seeing the concern on her lovely face. “In his own way. As we all do.”

“I’m glad that it didn’t consume you,” Jenny said, moving closer to him. “That you’re still you.”

“So much power, so much that I could do with it.” Xander said, turning in his seat to face her. “The right thing. The wrong thing. It’s all so tempting.”

“As it is for all of us,” Jenny said, in reminder.

He smiled, leaning in and kissing her gently. She moved with him, placing her hands on his chest and pushing him down onto the bedding.

She looked down at him as she straddled his waist, feeling the muscles of his upper chest. “Do you ever think about other women?”

He looked up at her, trying to catch up. It was nowhere near fair. “Wait, what?”

Jenny ran her hands down, sliding them under his shirt. “That servant girl, former, Qiao Hui, she mentioned that a number of Iron Fists took on multiple lovers.”

Xander would rather concentrate on the skin that was touching his, but he could tell that Jenny was serious about what she was saying. He was somewhat surprised that she was worried about it, considering. “Yeah, I know. It was in the Book. That’s the past though.”

“Are you sure,” Jenny asked, oddly and somewhat uncharacteristically vulnerable.

Reaching up, Xander stroked her cheek, sliding his hand down towards her neck, lifting the necklace that she was wearing. He pulled his own band out as well, the two silver rings glowing as they neared each other. “There is nobody else, Janna.”

“Sometimes a girl needs a little reassurance.” She smiled and bent down, kissing him fervently while the silver rings clinked together softly.

Hail the conquering hero.

xxx

“So this is goodbye,” Xander said, leaning down on the railing lining the balcony of Lei-Kung’s quarters. He looked out over the City, noticing the workers that were already up and about, fixing the damage that had been done during the battles that had occurred. It would not be long before all traces of the invasion and rebellion had been washed clean. But the results of those actions would be felt for much much longer. The Iron Fist looked at his people, seeing that they appeared no different than they had a few days ago.

“Yes, Xander,” Lei-Kung said, coming closer. He was dressed no longer in the garb of the Thunderer, but in the robes of the August Personage in Jade. As was his station now.

“Rule well,” Xander said, glancing over at the man. It was odd to see the large man out of uniform. “Rule well.”

It was both hope and threat. And both knew it.

“I will,” Lei-Kung promised as much as he could.

“Do you know anything about Chi’Lin?” Xander asked, standing straight and turning towards the new ruler of K’un-L’un.

“As much as you do, I’d imagine,” Lei-Kung stated, unflappable as ever. “If you know the name.”

“How much information do you have about him,” the Iron Fist asked. He knew it was a long shot, but he had to try. Now that the other fights were settled.

“I can give you what I have, but there’s little I can tell you. Myths and legends.” Lei-Kung shrugged. “But, one thing that you have that they did not…”

“What’s that?” Xander asked.

Yu-Ti looked him in the eyes. “You have allies and stand as one amongst many warriors. They stood alone. You do not.”

xxx

“Well, gang,” Xander said, looking out over the roof top and over the city. The blinking lights flickered innumerably as they expanded in the darkness. “Welcome, home.”

“Looks smaller,” Faith said blithely.

Xander laughed, and looked over at her. “Yeah, I guess it does.”

Vi looked down at her new pet as he sniffed around, exploring the new scents that he found himself surrounded by. He seemed to be nonplussed as well.

xxx

“We need to hit the road, but uh, I’m glad you came with us,” Xander said, placing the last of Colleen’s bags onto the floor of her apartment.

“I am too,” Colleen said, looking at her home. It seemed different after being gone for so long. Still, it had been well worth it. There would be much to discuss with her father. She walked over to her desk and opened up a drawer, calling out behind her, “wait a second, I have something I wanted to give you before you left.”

Xander waited as she came back over and handed him a business card. The back of it was blank for a scribbled phone number.

“My cell,” Colleen explained, looking down at it.

Flipping it over, Xander smiled as he read the front. “Heroes for Hire. Nice.”

Colleen shrugged, flipping a lock of long hair over her shoulder. “Yeah, well we get by.”

“You have my number too,” Xander said, shrugging and placing the card into his pocket. “If you ever need help, don’t hesitate.”

She smiled and leaned in closer, kissing him on the cheek. “Don’t let needing help be the only reason to call me.”

“I won’t,” Xander promised, smiling back.

xxx

Xander sat by himself at the bar, sipping a coke. It had been a fast week or so as they drove back across the country on their way home. They had stopped at a few places, tourist traps or to check in on new friends, but it had mostly been a vacation from their vacation. Time to decompress and reflect upon what had happened.

He glanced over towards the dance floor, watching as Cordelia and a few of what could be loosely described as friends danced in the crowd. It was nearing the end of summer, and people were taking the time to savor it. Cordelia looked like she was having a good time, and he smiled to himself. Happy that some people were able to enjoy themselves.

They had gotten in late and Jenny had had some stuff to take care of early the next morning due to being gone for so long. He couldn’t sleep so he went wandering, finding himself at the Bronze despite himself. It was as it always was, though lacking in close friends; the other girls were likely on patrol or at home asleep. He would see them in the morning.

“Long time no see, stranger,” a voice from his other side said. He looked over, noting a wide smile on the blonde sitting next to him.

“Yeah, too long,” Xander said, smiling back at the pretty girl. “You look good. How’ve things been, Amy?”

“Vampires, demons, same old,” Amy said, reaching over and hugging her friend tightly. It had been far too long for her tastes.

Xander hugged her back, letting her go after a moment and raising a hand for the bartender to come by for Amy’s drink order. “And lions and tigers too, I bet.”

“Did you find what you were looking for?” Amy asked, after the bartender had taken her order and deposited her drink in front of her.

Xander shrugged, drinking some more of his coke. He could nearly taste the high fructose corn syrup. He guessed they were too far north. “Close enough. Didn’t kill him, but it’s over with.”

Amy sat in silence for a moment, before turning and facing her friend. “Some things have come up, and I think you and Ms. Calendar are right.”

“About what?” Xander asked.

Amy sighed, looking around her. “The Council. The Watchers’ Council. Giles said that they’ve been gathering a lot of magical artifacts. For safety, but I don’t know. I just don’t get the feeling that’s it all good. I doubt they’ve done anything, really. But, still.”

“I’m not saying they’re trying to do evil,” Xander said, wondering exactly what had happened. And how the others would feel about it. “But, I…we, just thought they might have forgotten about the little things in their quest to look at the big picture.”

“Like people?” Amy inquired.

Xander said nothing.

“Anyway,” Amy continued. “We found something, something powerful. I decided to keep it until you guys got back. Giles wasn’t so pleased when I didn’t hand it over for the Council to deal with. I wanted to wait for you. To see how we should handle it.”

Xander just looked at her, nodding. He was back alright.
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