Chapter Five: The Devil’s Hand
“She clean?” Xander asked while he leaned against the car door. It was warm, the weather clear and hot by the side of the highway. Not as bad as it was in Arizona and on up through Texas, but still. He turned to face the gypsy/technopagan as she walked around to his side of the car.
He’d had to take a cab to get away from the hotel, slipping the “do not disturb” sign onto the door knob of the lawyer’s room. The psychic’s, Garson’s, body wouldn’t be found for a while. Not until somebody noticed the smell, or Wolfram and Hart’s ineffectual protection came knocking. It was long enough for them to get away at the very least, and that was enough for him. And with Jenny blanking the security cameras, there was nothing to place him on scene.
“Yes,” Jenny answered, coming around in front of the young man. It had been a surprise to her when Xander had brought company with him to the rendezvous point. They hadn’t known that they had been tracked, and it had been a hell of a coincidence that the people that were looking for them, or rather him, had planned to stay at the same hotel that they had been at. “No bugs. Mystical or otherwise. I checked her belongings too. We’re clear.”
“I didn’t know you could do that,” Xander remarked, looking out onto the highway. There were a few cars passing by intermittently. None slowed down or stopped though. Diana had taken her sedan with her, Faith riding with her. They were parked a little bit away from them, and luckily staying in the car. He didn’t know exactly how he would handle New York, considering that he was there to find out things that he may not want Watchers to know. “With the magic.”
Jenny shrugged, looking away too. She wasn’t exactly sure what Xander was doing, or why. But, Lilah might be his type, considering herself. But she knew that he wasn’t that stupid though, at least she hoped he wasn’t. “It wasn’t that hard.”
“Well, good for us,” Xander said, pushing off from the car. He made for the driver’s door when a hand stayed his movement. He turned around to look at the woman that had grabbed hold of him; she didn’t look particularly happy.
“She said there was someone you left in the hotel room. Someone you killed,” Jenny said, looking at Xander intently. He was getting good at bottling things up when he needed to. And she knew that he kept a lot of it private, unnecessarily in her opinion. To prevent being a burden in his.
“Yeah,” Xander said emotionlessly. Shooting the man in the head had been necessary. At least he thought it had. He could tell that Jenny wasn’t particularly happy with that revelation.
“Xander.” Jenny sighed, wondering what she could possibly tell him. It wasn’t so much that she could disapprove, not knowing all of the details. But, she couldn’t exactly approve of it either.
“I know,” Xander said, reaching over and putting a hand over hers. He could tell that she was troubled, not just because of what he had done, but because she was conflicted over what she should feel. “I know. “
“Did you need to?” Jenny asked after a moment.
“I don’t know,” Xander admitted. He looked away, staring off into the trees that lined the other end of the highway. “I didn’t even hesitate. I just pulled the trigger.”
Jenny just stared at him sadly.
“I am freaking out here,” Xander continued, turning back to his girlfriend. “I don’t even know what I’m doing anymore. If it was just me, I could have run, I could have disappeared and it probably wouldn’t have been that hard. But-“
“Don’t,” Jenny said, stopping him. She gripped his arm hard. “I know why you did it. You did it to protect the rest of us, and I know that you’ll make the right decisions.”
“That makes one of us,” Xander replied grimly.
“But, I think you need to think more,” Jenny chided gently. “I know that you’re trying to do what you need to, but I don’t like where this is taking you. It’s getting to easy for you to take a life.”
“Maybe that’s what my purpose is,” Xander said. He hadn’t told her all of the history of the Iron Fist. The original reason for the Immortal Weapon of K’un-L’un to exist. All in the life for a soldier, and the Iron Fists more than most all died young.
“Don’t say that,” Jenny inserted sharply. She looked at him intently. “It’s hard. I know it’s hard, but I know that you can do better. You spared this one, and I hope that you have a good reason for it. Mercy has a place too.”
Xander nodded, even if he wasn’t that sure that she was right. “I guess we should start with her.”
“Are you sure about this?” Rory asked lightly, taking a sip from his beer. He wasn’t particularly concerned about any of the events going on. Things were fairly calm at the present moment as far as he knew. No issues with the government, and the last dust up had been minor what with the local cops on SAMCRO’s payroll. The semi-constant strife that existed with the Mayans had been set aside for the most part, at least on the Mayan side, due to their movements south. Life in Charming was charming to say the least.
It presented an opportunity for the Sons to push the Nords further away from Charming. Not just because of the lack of Mayan conflict, but because the Nords were getting hit from another front. Clay was not one to miss an opportunity.
“Darby’s had to send more guys down to Arizona to clear up that mess,” Clay said, putting a finger on the wooden surface of the ornately carved table that they were seated around to emphasize the point. “This is the perfect time for us to move on them.”
Rory shrugged, looking around at the assembled faces. Piney didn’t exactly have the best history with the Nords, and he knew that Jax’s ex-wife used to buy from them. He was pretty sure that the VP of the club knew about the meth buys. Still it was declaring full-scale war with the Nords, and that wasn’t something to be taken on lightly. Then again, he wasn’t going to be on the front lines of that particular battle, not at his age. “If this is what you gotta do.”
He slid a folder over to Juice, the Hispanic man opening it up and glancing over it. “Nords are getting ripped to shreds in the Southwest. Mayans have gotten into it, and they’re pecking away at the sidelines, pulling what shit they can. Backlash has already started hitting back on them.”
“What’s this about the Hellions?” Juice asked, looking over at the former information officer of the club. “I never heard of them.”
“The what?” Clay asked, his face twisting into a scowl. Though young, Juice was supposed to know about such things. That was the man’s job, despite his other failings. Of course, that he didn’t know about them himself at his age didn’t enter into his mind.
Piney looked over at Rory, a knowing glance passing between them.
“I wouldn’t suggest messing with them,” Rory explained, knowing that it would be too difficult of an explanation to try to spell out for the whole club. But he and Piney had been in the shit together, both finding out some things that stayed with them to this day. “You want to push Darby further away from Charming, then keep it to that. Bring it on the Hellions, and you’ll be opening up a shitstorm that you won’t believe.”
“Rory’s right,” Piney growled out, sucking in pure oxygen from a small tank that he held on the table. He may have been in the club for most of his life, but there was still some stuff that he hadn’t told them. Mostly because he wouldn’t have been believed. “You don’t want to mess with the Hellions. Get the Nords out of here first.”
“Who are they?” Jax asked, looking over at the older members of the club. That Clay didn’t know was disturbing enough. That Rory and evidently Piney knew but weren’t saying was something else altogether. He didn’t like that much.
“Bunch of nomads,” Rory said at last. He looked over at the handsome young blonde man that served as vice president of the club. He liked the young man, though he knew that Clay considered him soft at times. The kid was much like his father in that way, he supposed. Of course, look at where that got John Teller in the grand scheme of things. How the Sons of Anarchy lost their way indeed. “Numbers wise, they may not be that big. But, trust me, you don’t want to be messing with them. “
“Alright,” Clay said, rubbing his stubbled chin. He wasn’t happy about the situation that was brewing with an unknown motorcycle club making a dent with a known quantity like the Nords. But, he wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Especially since Rory wasn’t frowning upon the move. “They just moved a bunch of guys out of Lodi. Juice, put a call out to the chapters. I want men ready to hit them there.”
The Hispanic man nodded, running a hand over his shaved and tattooed head.
The president of the club turned his head to face Tig, his wavy haired sergeant-at-arms. “See what we have in guns. I want to go in strapped for this.”
“You got it,” Tig replied.
Clay picked up the gavel that lay before him and smacked it against the wooden table. “We got work to do.”
“So what should I do with you?” Xander said, looking at the woman that was currently sitting on one of the plush chairs in the hotel room. She wasn’t tied up and he didn’t have a weapon out. Both would be futile and both knew it. “I ain’t exactly happy about you looking for me, as you can guess. And you didn’t have anything of use from Chi’Lin. Unless you were keeping something from my father?”
“No,” Lilah said, looking the young man in the eye. She had kept quiet during the trip to their current stop, a rather nice hotel room. Xander, as the boy was named, had paid for it. Likely from Orson’s inheritance or from the retainer fee that Wolfram and Hart had paid him. “But, Wolfram and Hart’s resources are incredibly vast. And there are other places, other dimensions, that information can be looked for. If Orson had told us what he was looking for, I could have helped him more.”
“If I fight for you,” Xander said, knowing exactly what the stakes were. He couldn’t tell, but he could have sworn that there was some actual sadness in her tone as she mentioned the last Iron Fist.
The lawyer merely nodded.
“And in return, you get access to the seven Capital Cities of Heaven.” Xander sat on the bed and faced her, his hands on his knees. It would have been better if he actually knew more about the law firm. Orson’s statements of them being evil didn’t help much. And their website was noticeably lacking in information on how full service they could be. “And, of course, I can just trust you. After offing one of your employees.”
“He was a freelancer,” Lilah said, smiling slightly. If he was one of most of their clients, and they were in the same situation, she’d be dead already. There was something to be said for dealing with humans. “And, your father trusted me enough to work with us. I can write a contract if you’re concerned.”
“Right,” Xander smiled back, having to catch himself. Looking at her, it was a little too easy to forget just who she worked for. Evil in all its guises and everything. “I’m sure that such a contract would be all fair and everything. What? Thirty pieces of silver or just my soul?”
“If you provide us the services that we desire, then you’ll get what you want,” Lilah explained. It was pretty much the truth. Wolfram and Hart had not gotten as large and powerful as it had by reneging on its part of deals. It always lived up to its contracts, to the letter if need be.
“So I fight for you, you give me everything that you have on Chi’Lin.” Xander wasn’t exactly sure what he should do. It would have been better to have others in the room to give him some advice, but he had thought it safer to do this alone. “And you get even more powerful once I win.”
“If you win,” Lilah said. In the world of imperfect information, she knew that she was at a severe disadvantage. While she knew that he shared the power that Orson did, she had never seen him fight. The fact that he was so young made her wary. “How do I know that you even stand a chance?”
“I’m twice as powerful as Orson was,” Xander replied in all honestly. He held up a hand, making a fist. It started to glow as he pulled on his chi, the fist erupting into brilliant white light.
Lilah had to turn away, closing her eyes as the young man’s hand looked like it had turned into a carbon arc lamp. The brilliance would have been blinding.
“I believe you,” Lilah said, her eyes shut, though she could still feel the light.
Xander let his hand dim, resting it on his knee once again. He was playing a most dangerous game, and while he was telling the truth in that he was twice as powerful as Orson, it was only due to the halving that had occurred once he had become the Iron Fist. Of course, he also neglected to inform her that that each entrant in the Tournament could only represent one body at a time. That he was, by definition and station, the representative of K’un-L’un was something he was keeping to himself.
“Why do you do this?” Xander asked after Lilah had opened her eyes again. He understood vampires to a degree. Demons too. Something in them made them evil, despite their free will, they were generally disposed towards evil. But, as far as he knew, Lilah was human. Fully capable of making the choice between good and evil. She just chose differently than most.
“I have my reasons.” Lilah frowned, not liking what he was asking. It was a direction she would rather not have to go.
“You want me to work for you, and by you, I mean you, I want to know exactly who I’m getting in bed with.” Xander tried to control his blush, his youth showing through. “Er…metaphorically speaking.”
Lilah smiled a little at that, imagining the thoughts that must be running through his head. If he proved powerful enough, he may be of more use than simply fighting in the Tournament. “It’s not relevant to this discussion.”
Xander tilted his head slightly, looking at her more closely. He supposed that he could read people a little better now. Orson had stressed that, mainly through insulting his general disposition and naiveté. “You’re doing this for personal reasons. You joined up for personal reasons. What did they offer you? What do they hold over you? To get you to become this.”
The lawyer’s expression turned ugly as she glared at him. He was proving to be incredibly insightful. Something that she didn’t like. It made her vulnerable, which was something she liked even less. From Xander’s expression though, Lilah knew that silence wasn’t going to cut it. “An extremely comfortable life. And, my mother, who no longer recognizes me, has the best room at the clinic. I get up every morning, put on my game face and do what I have to. That’s what they have over me.”
“You made a deal with the devil,” Xander noted, thinking that it was probably literal in this case. He examined her intently, wondering if there was some spark of humanity buried deep inside of her. Maybe he was deluding himself, or maybe there had been a reason why Orson had seemed to like her, aside from the whole sleeping with a beautiful woman thing. If her mother was a big reason for her, there was still some emotion underneath the whole ice queen exterior. He sighed, rubbing his forehead. At this point, he was picking them up like strays, despite it being a rather large danger for them all. Maybe it was his own childhood talking, but he wondered what it would be like to have so much love for a parent as to be willing to sell one’s soul, literal in this case most likely, for her. Like Orson often told him, he was a sap. “I take it the Cities are really important to your firm.”
Lilah said nothing.
“C’mon, just nod your head,” Xander said, getting exasperated.
“Yes,” Lilah answered after a moment, nodding.
The Iron Fist knew that he would likely come to regret it. Still, if being the Iron Fist was to mean something, it meant doing the right thing, for those that deserved it as well as those that did not. “Then I’m thinking I want more. Whatever you were going to get for Orson, all the info you got on Chi’Lin. And, I fight for your firm, I get you too.”
“Really,” Lilah said, smiling seductively as she turned back to her game face. She was glad that he had moved on, he was getting too deep.
“Not what I meant.” Xander shook his head, wondering if that was going to be Faith in another decade or so, barring the whole being evil part. But, the more he was exposed to it, the more he could tell that it was artificial. “I get your contract, and your mother’s put up for life.”
“My contract has a standard perpetuity clause,” Lilah explained; the boy was rather naïve it would seem. “That means even unto death.”
“I really don’t like magic,” Xander muttered as he shook his head. “Is there a way around it?”
“Only the Senior Partners can rescind it,” Lilah replied.
“Fine, if this is so important, then get the Partners to rescind it.” Xander didn’t exactly like where things were going, but he couldn’t stop himself. Maybe he was just weak when it came to women, or maybe there was something there that he thought was worth saving.
He stood up, reaching into his pocket for his cell phone. Xander tossed it into the woman’s lap, watching as she stared at it for a moment. “You can probably figure it out, but this is a test. It’s a trust thing. Make your calls and set up the deal. I don’t deal with anybody from Wolfram and Hart on this except you, and you work to my benefit. And just so we’re clear, I still don’t trust you. And despite my decision to spare you, I’m still quite willing to put a bullet through that face of yours.”
“Really? Are they okay?” Giles spoke into the phone. He glanced over as Buffy and Willow entered his apartment setting themselves down on the couch without so much as a hello. Amy had opened the door for them, completely ignoring him. Teenagers these days. At least Kendra was much better mannered. The Watcher turned his attention back to the phone as the man on the other side spoke. “That’s good news, Quentin. A superpowered individual you say. Two of them according to the report?”
Giles frowned as he reflected on that bit of information. That a potential and her Watcher had been attacked had been shocking enough. That they had been rescued had been reassuring, and he presumed that one of the ones responsible was Xander. That there was another was shocking though. The boy had not mentioned meeting anybody that was involved in the supernatural the last time that they had communicated.
Buffy and the other girls looked over in his direction, their curiosities piqued by what they had overheard. The Watcher turned around, his back facing them, and spoke more quietly into the phone. “No, I have no idea who it could be. I will investigate here though, and see if I can pick up anything. Do you know where they are right now?”
Giles listened, frowning as he learned the current whereabouts of the Boston-based potential and Watcher. That wasn’t why he had given Xander their address, though he was thankful that he did. “Alright, I’ll see what I can do. Please do keep me apprised of the situation though. Goodbye.”
The Watcher turned around after he had hung up, facing three pairs of eyes on him, all looking extremely interested in the conversation that he had just had. “I suppose you wish to know what just went on.”
“Spill,” Buffy said, a questioning look on her face.
“There was a potential living in Boston,” Giles explained, walking over to the center of the main room and taking a seat on one of the end chairs. “She, along with her Watcher, were attacked by a vampire. A demon hunter of some sort, a pair of them actually, saved them and defeated this vampire and his minions.”
“You think it was Xander?” Willow asked, wondering who the other one was. Probably Vi, even though that seemed somewhat unlikely.
“It seems reasonable,” Giles remarked, wondering about the other hunter that had been there. It wasn’t Nancy or Vi, the description that he had been given ruled them out. “However, the other party is another matter.”
“You’d think he’d have called to tell us,” Amy said, frowning. She had just finished another lesson with Giles, one where she had actually learned something. The burgeoning witch still wished that her teacher was there, though that they were out there doing some good was some cause for celebration.
“Quite right,” Giles said distractedly. He wondered how he would end up explaining this to the Council. Xander’s increasingly public actions in front of the Council’s members would undoubtedly lead to questions about why he did not report such power and ability in his reports. He had kept the secret too long for it to be simple oversight or discretion until he had gathered more data. He supposed another reprimand would be in order. Despite his “promotion” to carrying for two charges, he had had some stern warnings about getting to close to the Slayers.
It would have to wait until Xander returned or contacted them. Until then, he still had Sunnydale to worry about. There had been rumors and whispers of a dark power rising on the Hellmouth, and with the common riffraff under control, he had the time to fully investigate. And with two full Slayers and a semi-trained witch, he hoped that the investigation would bear fruit soon.
“I don’t like this,” Jenny said, looking at the door of the hotel room. They weren’t currently in their own, instead borrowing Vi and Nancy’s room for their little meeting. The Council affiliated were currently watching over Lilah in the room that she shared with Xander. The increasing number of people was making the room arrangements increasingly confusing. “You barely know this woman.”
“Yeah, I know,” Xander had to admit. “I really don’t know what to do. It’s either this, leave her somewhere which lets her come after us again, this time knowing what I look like, or kill her. Which I suppose would solve some of our problems. Except that she makes it seem like even death wouldn’t stop her from working for them.”
“As a ghost no doubt,” the gypsy remarked. Sighing, she looked at the young man that sat on the bed in front of her. He was conflicted, that much was certain. “Why are you trying to help her?”
“I honestly have no idea,” Xander said after a moment’s thought. “Maybe I just…think it’s the right thing to do. That maybe she somehow she deserves a second chance. Deserves to be saved. Maybe she just pushed the right buttons. Or maybe that’s stupid and I’m being an idiot for risking it.”
“No,” Jenny said softly, leaning in closer from her seat against the wall. “You’re trying to do the right thing. That’s not stupid.”
Although from what Xander had told her of the woman, she could see why he would have been apt to play the shining knight. He was always the helpful sort, especially for those in need. Even if they didn’t deserve it. Or maybe he was right, there could be someone to save in there.
“Maybe so, but I don’t know how this is supposed to work.” Xander frowned, glancing away. “I looked up the professor’s office hours. It’s a good thing that he’s teaching summer classes. I can drop in tomorrow for them in the afternoon. I don’t know what to do about Lilah until then though.”
“We can figure something out,” Jenny said, knowing that they were all running rather blind here. She had heard about the law firm before. Nothing very specific, but just general information about the fact that they existed as some type of supernatural, and evil, organization. At least Xander was playing it safe and wasn’t planning on some boneheaded stunt to take them all on. Lilah would be a handful enough as it was.
At least he wasn’t blind enough to think that the lawyer could be trusted.
Xander looked back at his girlfriend and smiled sympathetically. It was a lot to ask of her, too much maybe. “You really think I’m doing the right thing here?”
“I know you are,” Jenny assured him. He was complicated, sometimes he bottled things up so much, and others he was so open, as if needing her approval. The situation was very frustrating at times, but still quite worth it. “You questioned yourself before about all the things that you’ve done. The things you’ve regretted and the type of person you’re becoming.”
Xander nodded reluctantly.
“There are things that you do, lives that you take, because you have to. You do it to protect yourself and others,” Jenny continued. “I know it isn’t easy. And I know that you must feel like it’s consuming you. But, that you are willing to help this woman, it proves that it isn’t all that you are. You may have to kill, but it’s always for a reason. And I know that you’re on the right side of things.”
“You think so?” Xander asked, smiling at her words. She always knew the right things to say.
“You have a big heart.” Jenny smiled back. “And I know that you’ll make the right decisions. Besides, you’ve got us here to help you.”
“Thanks,” Xander said.
Agent Coulson waited as his computer finished running the program. SHIELD had access to the databases of every law enforcement agency, both federal and state, in the country. Regular search algorithms were run to collect information on strange occurrences that they were best suited to investigate. It just took a while. The facility’s server farm had some of the most advanced computer technology in the world, but he was at the mercy of the fact that not every government system did. Searching through the various networks and databases took time. There wasn’t much he could do about it though, so there was no use in complaining.
The dead end in Phoenix had been annoying, though not uncommon in his line of work. There was always another assignment to work on, especially with things the way they were. That they were operating under a clock just increased the pressure for results, but not how he functioned. His meticulous and careful nature usually paid off. In this case, hopefully sooner rather than later.
“Interesting,” the federal agent whispered to himself as something popped up on the screen. There was little in the way of paranormal activity on the surface, but it matched a few parameters. He scanned through the relevant documentation, picking up on things that the regular cops would dismiss.
Phil took a sip of coffee, as he loaded the rest of the file and started to read over the forensics report. Evidently silver had been found on the site, shaped into crosses and used like buckshot. Not to mention a plethora of empty shell casings and slugs. Silver could mean a number of things, the most obvious being werewolves.
Moving the mouse pointer, he pulled up crime scene photos, narrowing his eyes as he noted damage in crates and girders that were similar to what he had seen in Phoenix. Not totally the same, as they looked much more rounded, as if punched through, than the more glancing blows that he had determined were behind the damage at the Arizona site.
Agent Coulson picked up his phone, dialing the applicable station house in Boston. It took a few moments for the call to be answered. “Captain Davis? This is Agent Coulson, SHIELD. I need your help with a matter.”
Phil paused, as the man on the other line spoke. The federal agent answered the asked question quickly, having done it a number of times before, “four four seven, charlie sierra, twelve ninety two.”
It was his SHIELD identification number, certifying his governmental affiliation and opening up a number of doors that would be closed for lesser agencies.
“I need you to send samples of all the bullet evidence recovered at the scene of the warehouse, Case Number three six five four one.” Phil read off of his computer screen. He waited for the Boston police captain to write down his request. “And fragments from the damaged metal shown in Photo Number fifteen. Same case. I need it as soon as possible. Thank you.”
It was circumstantial at best. And didn’t match the MO of the previous attack. There was little evidence to point to a particular target either, though the police had been quick to attribute the attack to gang violence. Still, it gave him something to do.
Xander sat on a hard wood chair, looking down the narrow hall. There was nobody milling around, but even if there had been it was unlikely that he would have been questioned. Professor Wing was currently with a student, and he’d been forced to wait. He had perused the class’ website, and given the number of students in the class, it was unlikely that the professor would know that he wasn’t actually enrolled.
He heard someone get up and walk out the office to his left, glancing at a young woman as she left. Xander stood up and picked up his shoulder bag, walking into the professor’s office. He had to calm his nerves a little, taking the time to scan the room.
The Iron Fist didn’t know what he had been expecting, although if he had to imagine a professor’s office, it would probably be something like that. Bookshelves lined two of the walls, filled with old textbooks and other reference materials. There were some artifacts and scrolls as well, a few of the latter framed in glass cases adorning the wall shared by the hallway. The far wall was mostly a window, with the professor seated in front of it, behind an institutional looking wood desk.
“Can I help you?” the professor said, looking at the young man that had just walked into his office. He didn’t recognize him offhand, though he didn’t yet know every student in the program.
Xander looked at the man, somewhat surprised by the older man’s appearance. Professor Wing looked to be of mixed heritage, something not indicated by his name. A man in his late forties, with thick brown hair. “Right, I’m Xander. I had a couple questions about-“
“The reading,” Professor Wing interrupted, waving a hand at the empty seat in front of his desk. “I understand it’s a lot of material, but it’s a compacted course. I can help set you up with a tutor if you need one, but you’re still required to-“
“Actually, I had another question,” Xander broke in, taking the offered seat. He put his bag on his lap, opening it up and pulling out a copy of the paper that the professor had written a number of years ago. “You wrote this a while back, right?”
“What?” The professor looked down at the paper that the boy had just placed on his desk. He had written it, one of a number of studies he had done on his way to earning tenure. “Yes. I wrote that, how did you get a copy of it?”
“I was given it, but that’s not important,” Xander said, shaking his head. “My main question was whether you had more information on the subject of the legends you go over in this. This, Tiě Quán figure.”
“You have good pronunciation, young man,” the professor said impressed, though he wasn’t sure why the boy was asking about this now. “Why the interest in this subject?”
“Well, I’m not actually in your class, but your paper came up when I was researching a project of mine,” Xander explained as truthfully as he could. “I was wondering, well hoping, that there was maybe something more you could tell me about this figure. Any other legends that aren’t mentioned in your paper or other books or reports I could read.”
“Unfortunately this is pretty much everything that I could find,” Professor Wing stated, leaning back in his chair. He glanced at the clock, it was nearing four, and he was supposed to meet up with his daughter for coffee. “I can write down the names of a few books that might help, but I pulled from most of them for my paper. Was there something specific you were looking for?”
“A nemesis,” Xander said as the older man wrote a depressingly short list down on a piece of paper. He took it as soon as the professor was finished, easily recognizing the titles. They were the same ones that Orson had had in his library. Another dead end. “Is there any mention of a nemesis mentioned in any of myths and legends?”
“There was mention of an opposing dragon in one legend,” the professor replied after a moment’s thought. “However, in context it is most likely related to the cyclical nature of power, and balance. More of a metaphor, yin and yang, than a physical nemesis.”
“Do you know where that was from?” Xander asked, knowing that it was more than that. A lot more than that.
Lee Wing shrugged, shaking his head. “I never was able to track down the source to verify it. That’s why it isn’t mentioned in my paper. But, there was very little there that could be used, and like I said, much more of a metaphor than an actual opposing force.”
“Okay,” Xander replied, standing up and picking up his copy of the paper. He placed it back inside his messenger bag before shaking hands with the professor. “Thank you for your time, Professor.”
As he turned towards the door, Xander noticed a particular crystal that was mixed in with a number of artifacts on one of the bookshelves. It was clear, like glass, but faceted like a pyramid and hidden behind a few larger objects. It was only the angle that had allowed him to see it, and he had seen one just like it before, though larger in size. “That’s an interesting piece you have. Where did you come across that?”
“The pyramid? Just something from my travels. A knickknack.” Professor Wing looked over to what Xander was looking at. Or at least the general direction. “No real history behind it.”
“Okay. Thanks,” Xander said, walking out the door. He still wasn’t exactly sure why Orson had one, and Elsa wouldn’t have had the time to find out anything about it at the moment. Still, it probably meant something, but without knowing what, he couldn’t exactly steal it from the man. That would be all unethical.
Walking down the hallway, he turned to allow a young woman with long brown hair to pass; she was heading in the direction that he had come from. Odd since the professor’s office hours were over. Xander kept walking, stopping in front of the elevator doors and pushing the down button on the wall panel. It didn’t take long before the metal doors of the elevator opened.
Xander let a tall Asian man step out, walking into the elevator car after he had departed. He pushed the button for the first floor, watching the man walk down the hall as the door started to close. The Iron Fist got a bad feeling, shoving a hand in the space between the closing doors and forcing them open. Xander walked out again, seeing nothing suspicious, but still feeling as if things were wrong.
He stood in the small open space that served as a lobby for a moment, wondering what he should do. While he hesitated, Xander watched as the Asian man walked into Professor Wing’s office, the woman must have gone in there too, by all accounts. Xander didn’t know exactly what was going on, but figured that it was better to go with his gut instinct.
Xander moved forward to the hallway and against the wall, making his way silently down the hall and closer to the open door of the office that he had left just a minute before. He could hear voices inside, and they didn’t seem particularly friendly.
He ducked his head inside, only to have to pull it out to prevent being hit by the woman that had just been thrown out into the narrow hallway, her long brown hair flying. Frowning, Xander turned and went inside, hands up in a fighting stance. He wasn’t sure of the exact situation, but was sure that some shenanigans were going on inside.
“What the hell?” Xander said, watching as the Asian man whom was somehow dressed like a ninja, only in red, as he held the old man by the throat. “Let him go.”
“No,” the ninja said, voice somewhat distorted by the mask he now wore. “I’m here for the Anomaly Gem. Give it to me, and I let him live.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Xander said, inching to the side and looking for an opening. There really wasn’t one though, the man’s grip was such that Professor Wing’s neck would be snapped before he could make a move. “How about you let him go and I help you look for it? Is it bigger than a bread box?”
“Enough of your foolishness boy,” the ninja growled, scanning the room as best as he could. “Give me the gem.”
Xander said nothing, looking about the room as well. He heard the young woman get up and reenter the room, most likely looking at him inquisitively. He ignored it, there were more pressing concerns at the moment. “Okay, I think maybe I know where it is. I’m going to walk over and get it for you.”
“Slowly,” the ninja warned, displaying his upper hand for both the woman and the boy to see.
The Iron Fist walked to his left, over to the bookshelf. As he moved, he saw the young woman clearly, a strong family resemblance with the professor evident. That was most unfortunate. He could tell she was angry at the whole situation, though confused at what he was doing. He winked at her with his left eye, making sure that the ninja couldn’t see.
Grasping the small clear crystal pyramid, Xander turned to face the ninja. He held it up in his hand. “See, now let him go, and you can have it.”
Xander placed the crystal on the edge of the desk, backing away slowly as best he could in the relatively small room. He didn’t want the ninja to do anything drastic to the professor.
“Stay back. I can still kill your father, girl.” The ninja smiled beneath his mask, moving forward and being forced to shove his hostage into the bookshelf on the other side of the room in order to grab the crystal.
Xander watched him not make it, a dagger suddenly imbedding itself into the ninja’s forehead. He stood stunned as the ninja disappeared in a puff of greenish smoke, the scent of sulfur the only indication that the man had ever been in the room. “What the hell?”
The Iron Fist turned to the young woman, the only place the weapon could have come from. She looked rather angry, though it was obviously aimed at the now departed ninja. The existence of which he was still trying to wrap his head around. “Right, so what just happened? I’m not used to college and everything, but I’m pretty sure that ninjas aren’t a common occurrence.”
“Who are you?” the young woman said, glaring suspiciously at the boy.
Xander just looked at her, wondering what exactly it was about him that attracted the presence of attractive females that made with the violence extremely well.
“He’s a student,” Professor Wing inserted, pushing himself off from the bookshelf and rubbing his shoulder.
Xander didn’t bother to correct him, as he moved aside to let the young woman come to the aid of her father. “Yeah, I’m Xander. Who are you?”
“This is Colleen,” Professor Wing said, brushing off her attempts to help him. “I’m fine. I’m fine. Colleen is my daughter. Thank you for coming to my aid, Xander.”
“So, was there a reason why you were attacked by a ninja looking for that crystal?” Xander asked, pointing towards the gem that was still sitting on the man’s desk. At least he had a name for what it was. That should be helpful. “And, it’s still really really weird to be attacked by a ninja. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that he just went poof.”
“That was a Hand ninja,” Colleen said, examining the boy. He had not panicked and had tried to help. Perhaps he was not as useless as she had first thought.
“The Hand?” Xander asked, keeping himself from laughing audibly, though he was on the inside. He wondered if they were related to the Foot Clan. Somehow, it seemed inappropriate to speculate out loud.
“An order of evil ninja,” Professor Wing stated, walking forward and picking up the Anomaly Gem. While he knew that it had some generic history, he had never thought it would be so valuable. If he had, he wouldn’t have kept it as a decoration in his office. “They hire themselves out as mercenaries and thieves to whoever has enough money.”
“You seem to be taking this well,” Colleen noted, brushing her long hair behind her head. She was just glad her father was okay. She had tangled with the Hand before, and knew that they could be quite dangerous, even if there was only one of them. Oddly, the single ninjas seemed to be weaker when they were in large groups.
Xander shrugged, at least he hadn’t had to use his Iron Fist abilities. “I’ve been in a few scraps in my time. Not against ninjas, but you know, bad guys and stuff. You seem to be pretty trained up though. That’s quite a feat with a throwing knife.”
“My grandfather trained me,” Colleen explained, smoothing her clothes now. “How about you? How much training have you had?”
It was a challenge, of that Xander was sure of. He almost had to smile, it seemed that that was something that was happening frequently as well. “Picked up a few things here and there. I can handle myself.”
“Is that so,” Colleen said, looking him up and down. She got the feeling that he was downplaying things, intentionally or otherwise.
“He referred to that as the Anomaly Gem.” Xander directed his attention toward the professor, ignoring the young woman’s examination of him. That was something he was getting too much of. “Do you know what that is?”
“No, not specifically at any rate,” the professor replied, shaking his head. “The Anomaly Gem is said to contain some power, but there is little explanation of what that actually means. As it is, this is only a fragment. It is said that at least two of the pieces need to be brought together in order for them to be used. It would be of value to a collector, but for what reason, I do not know.”
Xander kept himself from reacting to that small revelation. He had larger things to worry about, but the information would be something he would have to follow up on. And he definitely had to make sure to keep an eye on his fragment of the Anomaly Gem.
“We were going to go for coffee,” Colleen stated, having to come to a decision about the young man. “Would you like to come with us?”
The Iron Fist looked at her, seeing a playful challenge on her face. Still, the request was sincere. “Okay. I suppose I have the time.”
“An Anomaly Gem?” Jenny said, watching as Xander put the two crystals near each other. Nothing seemed to happen, they probably had to be physically touching for whatever was supposed to happen to happen. And he was smart enough not to try it without some more research. “I’ll tell Elsa, that could help her find out more on what this thing is supposed to be.”
“Yeah, hopefully that’s going to lead to something good,” Xander said, looking down at the two crystals. It had finally sunk in. He had spent so much time getting here, and expecting something, and he didn’t know much more than he had when he had begun the trip. Maybe he shouldn’t have set himself up for disappointment like he had, but there really hadn’t been much else. He had gone on the road trip to get away. But, it seemed like he always carried it with him. “I’m just going to keep stumbling through this, aren’t I?”
“What do you mean?” Jenny asked, sitting down on the bed and looking at her boyfriend seated at the desk against the far wall in their room.
“Orson’s gone, and the book’s only been helping me with the history. What I’m actually supposed to do, I just don’t know if I’m learning what I should be,” Xander admitted, sighing and turning around. He had had to spill some of the truth to get his hands on the crystal. If Orson had kept the other piece, he had to believe that it was for a reason. It had been a revelation of sorts for Professor Wing, but he hadn’t had anything else to tell him. His daughter on the other hand, had looked like she wanted to see who was top dog. He wasn’t exactly sure if he could trust them, so he kept it fairly brief, but he wondered just how public he should be about his station, even if it didn’t mean that he had to tell them everything. “You’d think that it would have all the answers, but it really doesn’t.”
“That book, that book can tell you what happened,” Jenny said sympathetically. It was a familiar situation, but Xander could be awfully stubborn. “But, it can’t tell you what you should do. Only you can, and I know that you can do that. You’ve been doing that.”
“Maybe-,” Xander said. He was going to say more, but instead stood up, walking over to the bag that he had in the open closet and undid the zipper.
“What is it?” Jenny said, startled by his abruptness.
He picked out a small leather pouch, opening it up and depositing a small green figurine onto a palm. It had started glowing. He turned around, showing it to the gypsy. “It’s almost time. Tomorrow. Or maybe the day after. The time’s come.”
“How do you know?” Jenny asked, brow furrowed and more worried than she had been. It had just gotten a heck of a lot more real.
“I don’t know, but I know,” Xander said, staring at the green figurine. He sighed and placed it back into the pouch, putting it back into his bag.
“So what now?” Jenny asked.
Xander turned and smiled at her briefly. He walked over to stand by the bed. “It’ll come when it comes. Colleen wants to see what I can do, and I figure that Vi and Faith should get some time in. It’s a vacation for them I suppose, but they should still be practicing.”
“And the others?” Jenny asked. She still didn’t trust Lilah, and for that matter, she questioned how much Diana could be trusted, but given that it was Xander that was most at risk, it was his decision that she would abide by.
“Keep an eye on Lilah,” Xander replied, still wondering if he had made the right choice. She was being watched in another room, coming up with the contracts necessary for his service. He still needed to review it, since he wasn’t planning on selling his soul to the company. He was playing them, and it was a dangerous move, but he still knew things that they didn’t. Which gave him some kind of edge. For now at least.
“And Diana?” Jenny asked again.
Xander shrugged. “I expect she’ll do what a Watcher does. It had to come out some time. I just hope it doesn’t come back on Giles too bad.”
“But, she could still be a threat to you,” Jenny said, knowing that her display in Boston probably gave the Watcher a bit more of a hold over them, despite Xander’s threats.
“I know the Council and us aren’t exactly the best of friends, but better the devil that we know,” Xander replied, glancing at his watch. “Besides, making friends, something I do well, don’t you think?”
He grinned, though it didn’t reach his eyes.
“I still don’t like it though,” Jenny admitted, not buying it.
“Neither do I,” Xander said, moving closer and kneeling down before the bed. He put a hand on her knee and looked up at her. “But, we’ll deal with as it comes. And, I made sure to lock the door this time.”
Jenny just smiled at him and bent down.
“Well, that is interesting,” Phil said to himself, leaning in closer to his computer. He tapped a few more keys, expanding his search, but it still only came up with one match. A hell of a coincidence, and one too large to be ignored.
Reaching over, Agent Coulson dialed into the director’s direct line. Despite the hour, he wasn’t exactly concerned that Director Fury wouldn’t be at his desk. It didn’t take long for the call to get picked up as expected.
“What is it?” Nick Fury said over the phone, no preamble necessary.
“I’ve got a possible hit on the weapons from the Boston attacks,” Phil explained, as he simultaneously e-mailed his report to the director.
“They’re most likely from the same place?” Nick asked, opening up his e-mail and glancing at his agent’s memo.
“Yes, sir,” Phil answered, nodding in habit. “The police count at least two shooters, excluding what looks like a target, with the main one using 5.56mm, .45 ACP rounds, and one 40mm grenade. I ran a search, and the army depot in Sunnydale California recently ran an inventory. Matching ammunition, as well as an M4 MWS came up missing.”
“That’s still circumstantial,” the director stated, ever the pessimist. The fact that it was Sunnydale did raise his interest, although he wasn’t exactly pleased that the military presence in that town would take this long to discover that weapons were missing. Phil was ex-military. He probably wasn’t happy with it either.
“Maybe so,” Phil admitted, though he had a hunch that his feeling was correct. “But, it’s too large of a coincidence to ignore. Especially if it turns out to be linked to the attack in Phoenix, which we know that there are superhuman implications. I’m working on corroborating evidence. There’s more though.”
“What do you mean, Phil?” Nick asked.
“The inventory found more items were missing. Grenades, and a crate of M72’s.” Phil had been rather disheartened when he had heard that such heavy equipment had been stolen from a military facility. That they had only recently been found, and the ATF hadn’t reported any odd rumblings about military grade weapons sales in the area, indicated that they might have been appropriated for personal use. It fit into his theory, for better or worse.
“And your feeling is that these were taken by this mysterious vigilante?” Nick asked. He was rather convinced that Phil was on a trail that should be followed, but he wanted to make sure that it would be investigated fully.
“I think so,” Phil answered. “If the target was the Sunnydale depot, then either it’s a local or someone that thought that it would be an easy target. Easier than other facilities in larger cities at any rate. That this is the first time that we’ve seen evidence of their use is telling. The timeline also fits, linking from California to the east coast, especially if the unsub’s moving by car.”
“Okay, follow up on this. The evidence you requested should get here by tomorrow,” Nick said, still reading over the paperwork. “We have the parameters to refine the diagnostics, but I’ll talk to Tony and make sure that his lab will be available if we need deeper scans.”
“Yes, sir,” Agent Coulson replied. The samples should arrive soon, and with that, the answers they were looking for. Hopefully it wouldn’t be another dead end like Phoenix had been. “I’ll keep you apprised of the situation.”
“Very well. Good job,” Nick said, hanging up without a goodbye.
“So what are we doing here?” Faith asked, leaning against the brick wall of the enclosure for the stairway that led to the rooftop they were currently standing on. Xander had led them across rooftops and fire escapes, running and jumping and twisting their way through. By her reckoning, they were probably at least a couple of miles from where they had started.
Xander turned, looking over his shoulder and smirking at the brunette potential. He had run them hard to their current position. And though he had not gone as hard or as fast as he could, he had wanted to give them a work out. To give them a taste of what even limited Slayer potential could do for them. They had not disappointed him. “I thought you wanted to get out some, after being stuck inside all day?”
“Yeah, but I meant a club,” Faith retorted, sniffing something that was all too familiar and something that she didn’t want to be smelling anymore. “This is a bit too much like work isn’t it?”
“Well, if you’re tagging along, you probably don’t get your workout time in,” Xander said, turning back to look out over the rooftop and beyond. Night had fallen hours ago and he could see the city lights. And hear the city sounds, cars, people, and machinery. It made the whole city feel alive. And they were all a part of it. “Besides, if you want to meet Colleen like you wanted too…”
“Is she a potential too?” Vi asked, coming up to stand beside Xander.
“Not as far as I know,” Xander remarked, turning to look around him. He scanned the area surrounding him, getting the feeling that they were being watched. Likely Colleen having some fun.
“So this is a lesson?” the redhead asked, looking around herself at whatever it was that Xander was trying to find.
“Teacher’s pet,” Faith muttered under her breath, rolling her eyes at the younger potential. It was hard to believe that they were supposed to be the same. Although, she certainly was flexible, able to keep up with Xander in their run through the city with some ease. It had been fairly difficult for her.
“I heard that,” Xander remarked, not bothering to look at Faith. He knew it wasn’t meant too harshly, but he still felt the need to stick up for the young girl that he had sort of taken under his wing. “I’ve known two Slayers in my time. Only way that happens…”
He turned to stare at the brunette who still looked rather rebellious. “One of them dies.”
Xander tensed his leg muscles, bolting into the air in a back flip, dodging a kick from another woman that came flying in and impacted against the tar paper roof that they were standing on. He smiled briefly, dodging to his left as the woman whirled around in a fast spin kick that whizzed by only inches from his head.
“Pretty good, Colleen,” Xander replied flippantly, as he came to a stop. He looked her up and down, noticing that she had changed into a rather form fitting black outfit. Better to blend in, as well as show off certain attributes. Not that he should be looking. “What would have happened if I hadn’t dodged that?”
The newcomer shrugged, her grin evident in the light that reflected from the street below. “I’d have pulled it back.”
“Sure,” Xander said, walking up to her. He waved a hand at the potentials who had been startled by Colleen’s sudden appearance, though they were trying to hide it. “The pouty brunette’s Faith, and the redhead’s Vi. Girls, this is Colleen, kicker of ninja ass.”
“Nice to meet you,” Colleen said, not taking her eyes off of the young man. He certainly did have some skills, having picked up on her presence while she was still trying to sneak up on them. She wondered where he had trained, considering he’d still been rather elusive about it. Claiming to be a mystically enhanced warrior of some sort didn’t exactly explain much. Nor did it explain what he was supposed to do with the powers. “So they’re like you?”
“Not exactly,” Xander said, mirroring Colleen’s movements as she started to circle around him. “Vi’s a student of mine actually.”
Vi actually smiled at that.
“And Faith?” Colleen remarked, glancing over at the dark haired girl that was rather unimpressed at what was happening. That was a girl with a boulder on her shoulder.
“Is Faith,” Xander said, smirking. It was a little lighter than he should be feeling he supposed. But, given how things were, he’d have to get serious soon enough. One night of fun wasn’t too much to ask. “But, now that we’re both ready for it, how about it?”
Colleen didn’t respond vocally, but her roundhouse kick served that function just fine.
Xander ducked out of the way of the kick, turning and facing the woman as she regained her stance and followed up with a side kick. The Iron Fist stood his ground and blocked it with a right forearm, feeling the impact against his arm. It was quite a hit, and he felt more than he normally would have considering that he was not calling upon the chi of Shou-Lao the Undying. It was all him this time; to keep things fair.
Punching forward, Xander sent a couple of quick jabs towards the woman, forcing her to give ground as she dodged and blocked. She ended up having to dive to the side, flipping in a cartwheel to regain her spacing. Xander turned to follow her movements, leaping into the air after her, blocking a kick with his arm and flipping over it.
“Jesus,” Faith exclaimed, watching the two go at it. And it wasn’t even a serious match. The blows were going fast and heavy this time. Xander and the woman giving as good as they were getting. But, it wasn’t just the number of strikes, it was the rhythm. They were in tune with each other, and their pure athleticism allowed them to perform feats that she had never seen before. The fact that Colleen claimed not to be enhanced, fighting ability at least, in any way made it all the more impressive.
“I know,” Vi remarked coming up to stand next to the other potential. She watched as Xander ran up a wall and kicked off of it, landing lightly on his feet, before leaping forward again in a jump kick. There was some of what Xander was teaching her in there, but she knew that she still had some ways to go. The training that she had received from her Watcher had carried her only so far.
“And he’s teaching you this?” Faith asked, only sparing a glance at the younger girl. She didn’t want to miss any of what was going on before them. She winced as she saw Colleen bend backwards, almost parallel to the ground, in order to avoid the pointed edge of Xander’s palm. It was only a little more impressive than Xander’s forward flip to avoid the woman’s leg that swept towards his own.
“Yup,” Vi said happily, watching the pair go back and forth. She knew from experience that Xander was holding back, utilizing only his skill rather than the power of the Iron Fist. It was the same as when she sparred with him, although it didn’t tend to be this fast and aggressive.
“You think he’ll teach me?” Faith asked, turning to face Vi.
Vi just looked back at her, a defiant expression on her face. “Maybe if you stop being such a bitch.”
Stunned, Faith didn’t have a response.
“Xander’s with Ms. Calendar,” the redhead continued, glaring at Faith. “You should stop trying to get into his pants.”
“Look at you, all down with the slang,” Faith responded, bemused at the whole thing.
“I’m serious,” Vi said, still glaring at the brunette. “They’re in love, and you need to stop trying to interfere.”
“Please, guys are only after one thing,” Faith said, rolling her eyes. She watched as Xander managed to get Colleen into a hold, rolling her to the ground and pinning her to the ground. It didn’t last long though as the woman was able to slip free and flip on top of him. “Or do you think that that’s not flirting over there?”
“Xander’s different.” Vi crossed her arms over her chest.
Faith looked at her for a moment, head cocked to one side. She smiled slowly, revelation dawning in her mind. “You came on too him didn’t you?”
Vi turned away, hoping that her blush wasn’t evident. “Maybe I did, but Xander was really nice about the whole thing and he wouldn’t cheat on Ms. Calendar.”
She watched as Xander helped Colleen to her feet, the pair of them approaching them. It had been fairly even she supposed. Colleen was incredibly skilled. Thinking upon Faith’s words, she was still sure about Xander. After the truth had come out, she had seen the way that Xander had acted around the gypsy. She shook it off though, smiling as the two sparring partners drew closer. “That was incredible. The both of you.”
Xander shrugged. “Yeah well, that’s the advanced course. Only a hundred bucks extra.”
“Well, I’m impressed,” Colleen inserted, taking a few deep breaths. She had to admit, the younger man could definitely hold his own in a fight.
“So you’re trained up, what exactly do you do?” Xander asked, facing the woman. She was in her twenties, but didn’t look to be in academia like her father.
The woman shrugged, pushing some stray wisps of hair over her ears. “Technically I’m a private investigator. But, I work a lot with the DA’s office. Cutter now. Rubirosa.”
“By yourself?” Vi asked, wondering exactly what there was for someone with her developing skills once she grew up.
Colleen shrugged again, glancing over at the young girl before turning her attention back on Xander. “Yeah. But, I could always use the help. Lot of stuff comes out of that office.”
Xander looked away. “I don’t know how much I’m going to be around here after today.”
“My father told me about what you’re going to face.” Colleen could understand his reluctance.
“What?” Xander asked, turning to her in confusion.
Colleen nodded. “Yeah, once he figured out what you were, he figured that the Tournament referred to in a couple of the legends was literal too.”
The Iron Fist just looked at her intently, though he was wavering inside. “Okay, yeah. The Tournament. What about it?”
“I want to go,” Colleen stated bluntly.
“What?” Vi asked, confused at the whole thing. They hadn’t exactly talked about who was going to go, all of them delaying the decision as if it would prevent the event from occurring.
“It’s a tremendous learning opportunity,” Colleen explained turning to face the redhead. “My father would have liked to have gone, but he has to teach class. I have time, and can take notes for him. Learn about the culture there.”
“You really don’t seem to be that shocked about the idea of other dimensions,” Xander remarked.
Colleen just smiled at him. “Xander, I’ve fought ninjas that transform into smoke when killed. The idea of magic and mystical cities isn’t really a big leap for me.”
Xander nodded, going with his gut again. She’d been straight with them so far, and he owed her father something. “Okay, I guess if you’re really that sure.”
The party was just getting bigger, and he really didn’t know why. It was like he couldn’t say no to a pretty face. He just hoped that Jenny wouldn’t be too annoyed. “In the meantime, this is your city. Anything you want to show us?”
Colleen thought about it, wondering what they could possibly do on what was their last night in New York City. “I got an idea. Try to keep up.”
The woman bolted toward the edge of the roof, diving off of it.
Xander watched her go, turning back to the potentials. He shrugged, there was really nothing he could do. “Let’s go.”
The three of them raced for the edge of the building, intent on making their last night in the city something to remember.