Chapter Seven: Contact
Xander ignored the looks and whispers as he walked past the crowds. He stood as straight as he could, feeling the stares on his back. Part of it was undoubtedly the controversy that had arisen when the existence of the Iron Fist had been revealed. Orson Randall had been thought, now rightly, dead and that there would not be another Iron Fist for some time. Still, he also knew that, to the citizens of the City of Heaven at least, the Iron Fist meant something. And to have the prodigal son return was cause for stares and whispers.
“Not exactly what I was expecting,” Xander remarked, looking over at the large man that towered over him. The Thunderer had taken it upon himself to teach him about the City and its history. From the tall pagodas with their multiple tiers and gracefully sloped roofs to the narrow stone-lined streets and alleys, everything had its own story. The City had been there for thousands of years before even Phineas Randall had crashed his airship there, and would likely be there for years after he was dead and gone.
“No matter how long it’s been, or how long you have been gone…,” Lei-Kung stated, looking at the black emblem that was on the center of Xander’s green silk uniform. It was the official dress uniform of the Iron Fist, one that hadn’t been used for a long time. “To them, you are home. And that is cause to celebrate.”
Xander said nothing, looking down as a young girl approached him shyly. She was perhaps five or six, her short black hair pulled back into small pigtails. He knelt down, taking a small bunch of flowers that was thrust at him. He smiled at her, ruffling her hair with a free hand. “Xiè xie.”
He watched her run off giggling, meeting up with a group of children that crowded around her. The Iron Fist stood up and continued walking, heading on up to the stone steps that led to a large red-tiled pagoda. It was Yu-Ti’s ruling hall, and seat of power for all of K’un-L’un.
Xander stopped in front of the entrance, looking around at men in black robes. Their empty metal masks were creepy in their intensity, as if they could look into him, despite the apparent lack of eyes. “Is there anything I should know?”
Lei-Kung frowned, pulling Xander through the opening and into the main hall. He did not speak until they had reached an isolated corner, far from the observant ears of the August Personage in Jade’s terror priests. He looked at the boy standing in front of him. Though he was dressed in one of the ancient uniforms of the Iron Fist, he looked more like a normal kid than ever. “I serve at the pleasure of the August Personage in Jade.”
Xander narrowed his eyes, wondering exactly what it was that the war master was not saying.
“And all power, held long enough, can corrupt. You know that more than most,” Lei-Kung continued as much as he could. He took the honor of his station seriously, and no matter what policy he may disagree with, he had his duty. “Watch yourself. From here, you have to walk alone. And, there is only so much that I can help you with.”
“We never really talked about, what’s going to happen. With…your son.” Xander looked across the hall, taking in the ornate carvings that decorated the large room. He wondered briefly how old it was, the work likely having taken years to complete.
“You will serve as the Champion of K’un-L’un,” Lei-Kung said, shifting to keep Xander’s attention. “There are rules. No matter the provocation, you are not to fight him, unless it is in the Tournament. These rules protect him just as much as they do you. Do not break them.”
“What happened, it’s not over,” Xander replied, lips tight. He looked at the ground for a moment, feeling that old ache. Moving his eyes back onto the Thunderer, he spoke coldly, “and in the Tournament or not, son or not, there’ll be a reckoning.”
“You don’t want to keep Yu-Ti waiting.” Lei-Kung turned around, heading back out of the hall. Despite his sure step, he was conflicted. The vengeance and anger that was eating at the boy could be just as deadly as any of the skills he had learned. To an enemy as well as to himself.
Sergeant Barton ignored the intentionally off-key singing that his driver, Corporal Dominquez, was currently subjecting the occupants of the Humvee too. It had been nearly ongoing since they’d hit Afghanistan over six months ago, and the good corporal’s near encyclopedic knowledge of top 40 pop was becoming increasingly disturbing. Ever since Tony Stark’s very public capture and subsequent lashing out at the people responsible, the United States had been forced to act against a terrorist organization that had only recently come to light.
As it was, he still wasn’t sure what they were doing here. He had little problem with warfare, and had seen combat during the first Gulf War, but riding around in Humvee’s and getting shot up by terrorists with G36’s and RPG’s was not exactly the standard practice for Force Recon. They were nominally tasked with information gathering in regards to the Ten Rings terrorist organization, but were also supposed to look for and recover or destroy any Stark Tech advanced weaponry that they may come across. Of course, that usually meant getting hit with the USM 11676 Viper rocket-propelled grenade, another Stark Industries party favor.
While the United States had fallen in love with the concept of a real life superhero, the rest of the world hadn’t. And Tony Stark had just ended up causing more problems for the boys on the ground with his antics. Sergeant Barton wasn’t privy to everything that those in charge were, but he knew that the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle was initially supposed to have been finished and deployed by now. With Tony Stark shutting down weapons development at Stark Industries, the project had been delayed and wasn’t slated to be completed for another year. Which left him riding shotgun in an underarmored vehicle.
But, he couldn’t think about that. Shaking his head, the highest ranking marine in the Humvee scanned the buildings that they were driving past. The others in the vehicle were just antsy, hopped up on a combination of adrenaline, lack of sleep, and energy drinks. Coming down too hard on them would just be counter-productive and detract from unit morale.
“Shut the fuck up!” Corporal Dunne shouted from the back, seated directly behind the driver. He had his M4 sticking out the window, ready to fire if need be. He’d heard reports of attacks in the area, and wanted to be prepared. Despite the armor that the Humvee had been equipped with, the marine knew that it wouldn’t offer up much protection against some of the more advanced weaponry that the Ten Rings terrorists had gotten their hands on.
God, how he loathed Britney Spears.
Barton allowed himself a small grin, knowing that it wouldn’t be seen as he scanned the buildings that they passed on the right. He narrowed his eyes as he thought he saw movement. But, at the speed they were going, and the shadows, they didn’t usually detect the enemy until they were being shot at. And then, it was usually just muzzle flashes.
He blinked, time seeming to slow down as he opened them. His vision seemed to flash as he concentrated on sunlight glinting off of something shiny. The young sergeant focused, trying to make a clear identification. It came fast and hard, his training kicking in automatically without conscious thought. He sighted down his carbine and pulled the trigger, sending a bullet into the forehead of a robed and masked man that had just pointed an assault rifle at the passing vehicle. “Contact right!”
It opened a storm, as a rain of bullets started to ping off of the Humvee’s roof and sides. Barton started firing at the now visible muzzle flashes.
“Motherfucker!” Dunne grunted, feeling a round ricochet off of his helmet and embed itself into the back of the seat. He let loose with his own weapon, the sound drowned out by the M2 heavy machine gun mounted on the top of the Humvee.
Barton ejected his empty magazine, effortlessly replacing it and continuing to fire. Dominquez was doing his job and getting them out of there, but there seemed to be countless numbers of people shooting at them in the twisting alley that they were driving in.
He fired his rifle, in some cases actually able to see the men that he was hitting fall. It was an odd sensation, as it usually was to see a man die. Normally, they would never have been able to see such things under battlefield conditions. Usually all they had to support the death of an enemy was the lack of return gunfire. And even though he was designated marksman for the squad, and had seen death up close through a scope, it was still strange. Still, he was a marine and he had a job to do. Barton ignored the thoughts, instead focusing on getting them out of there alive.
“RPG!” Dominquez yelled as he twisted the steering wheel and tried to swerve, watching uselessly as a large black rocket streaked towards them, detonating against the hood of their vehicle. He felt shrapnel and glass rake against his face, scrapping bloody furrows into his cheeks as the windshield blew in from the blast.
The Humvee skidded to a halt as its engine was disabled, and the front axle bent.
“We need to get out of here!” Dominquez shouted, as another RPG was fired at them. Luckily, it was slightly off target and detonated against a stone wall, the explosion rocking the Humvee slightly.
“Find cover!” Barton yelled back, pulling his rifle in and opening his door. He got out, using the door as a shield and fired at all the muzzle flashes that he could see as well as where he calculated the men firing the RPG’s were. He glanced over his shoulder to make sure that the rest of his team was exiting the disabled vehicle as well.
The sergeant grimaced as he saw the prone form of lance corporal Martens lay on top of the Humvee, his face bloodied and his eyes unfocused. Only shallow breathing revealed that he was still alive. It was a small blessing.
Gunfire pinged off of the door he had in front of him, ripping him back to attention. He turned, firing his M4 in controlled single shots to keep their attackers from advancing. He’d have to get back into the Humvee in order to pull the man out. As he started back for the rear door of the vehicle, he missed the RPG that had been fired at him from above until it had almost impacted on the ground near where he was standing.
“Shi-!” Barton started to shout, eyes wide as he saw the explosive detonate. He was thrown against the stone wall of a blown out building, feeling a sharp impact against the side of his head. Landing hard, the marine grunted in pain and then lay still.
“I checked all the recent and upcoming shipments that I could,” Willow said, handing a number of loose pieces of paper to Giles. She yawned widely, covering it with a free hand. She had spent the night looking things up on her computer, and it had begun to hit her hard.
“Are you feeling okay?” Buffy asked, looking over at her friend.
Willow nodded, rubbing her eyes slightly. “Just tired. I wanted to get it all done.”
“Thank you,” Giles noted distractedly as he flipped through the pages. Most of it was mundane; a number of artifacts and antiques from different cultures. Some of it was being sent to the local university for study and storage, while others were sent to the local art gallery and museum. At least, it was all of the official items.
“You should not push yourself too hard,” Kendra inserted knowingly. Living in Sunnydale for so long had been an eye-opener. It was a different from her years of constant training. Fun had never been part of the equation until now. And she could see that it had its place.
Willow smiled briefly. It was probably true, but with the routine that Buffy, Kendra, and Amy had established, and Buffy’s new boyfriend, she didn’t have much time to spend with her friends outside of the work. At least Oz was getting back soon.
“My word,” Giles said, breaking in. He put the sheets of paper down on the table and rushed over to the book cage, searching through it hurriedly.
“What did you find?” Buffy asked, watching in some amusement as her Watcher conducted his search. It took a few minutes for him to find what he was looking for, coming back to the main table in the center of the library. At least with summer there was nobody really using it except for them.
Giles put a large leather-bound book on the table, flipping through it carefully. The text was clearly ancient, its pages yellowed and cracked with age. The black ink was faded, and in a language that had not been in common use for thousands of years.
“Yes, here we go.” Giles scanned a page, looking at the drawing that had been crudely printed in the book. He compared it to the color photograph that was on one of Willow’s computer printouts, the two looking extremely similar.
“What is it?” Buffy asked, craning her neck for a better look. All she could make out were symbols that looked like runes, along with a picture of some type of box.
Giles pushed the printout towards the Slayer, pointing at the picture in question. It showed a small wooden box, bounded by gold with a small skull emblem in the center. “This is the Casket of Ancient Winters. It was said to contain the Fimbulwinter of Ymir.”
“So what’s the Fibbly-thing do?” Buffy asked, wondering why such a small thing was so important. It looked like a hand-sized wood chest, and though there was gold, it was hardly impressive.
“Fimbulwinter. It was said that Malekith the Accuser used it to wage war on the Asgard,” Giles explained, reading off of the text he had used to verify the piece. “When opened, it can create powerful snowstorms. Massive in size. It’s only legend, and its origins most likely lie elsewhere, but there have been reports that it does have considerable power.”
“What’s it doing in Sunnydale?” Willow asked, not remembering the specifics of the artifact. She had been copying and pasting by the end of it all, wanting to get as much data as possible before bringing it in for review.
“It was reported lost decades ago by Watcher scholars,” Giles replied, rustling the papers so that he could find where the artifact had been sent to. “I can only imagine why it’s showing up now. Regardless, if Willy’s information is correct, then this is the most likely target.”
“What do you want us to do now?” Kendra asked, looking at the picture of the Casket intently, memorizing its appearance.
Giles finally found it, recognizing the address easily. “Buffy, the Casket is at your mother’s art gallery. Call Amy and have her meet you there. Bring Kendra with you. We need to acquire this piece as quickly as possible.”
Buffy nodded and got up, heading towards the door with Kendra close behind her.
“What do you want me to do?” Willow asked.
The Watched turned to the teenager, noting her haggard appearance. And there was still so much to be done on the artifact. And that still left the group that Willy indicated were coming to acquire it. “I should look through other texts to learn more about the Casket. We may need to destroy it. You should get some sleep. If I need your assistance, I’ll call you.
“I’ll take a nap here,” Willow stated, already thinking about the small couch that Giles had in his office. She knew that it was extremely comfortable based on past experience.
Giles nodded, frowning to himself. From Kendra to Willow to Xander, all of them had grown up so much. And they all pushed themselves so hard. Of course, if the Casket of Ancient Winters was as dangerous as indicated, then they really didn’t have a choice.
There weren’t any other groups that were willing to stand with them after all.
Xander said nothing as he watched the August Personage in Jade size him up. Despite the green hood that the ruler of K’un-L’un wore, Xander knew that the man was disappointed in what he saw.
“Do you know why you are here?” Yu-Ti asked, leaning forward in his stone throne. He looked down the steps at the City’s new champion. Xander Harris was not the youngest Iron Fist, but he was the youngest to have ever fought in the Tournament. Not to mention his less than complete training. Still, it could have its benefits.
Xander nodded, trying to control his emotions. “I am prepared to fight in Orson Randall’s stead.”
“Are you now?” Yu-Ti asked derisively. He waved a hand in dismissal of the boy’s blanket statement. The boy was young and knew not what he was getting involved in. “Sections of this City will join with the six others, to create the Heart of Heaven. It is a palace where our contests take place. Aspects of each City, along with your Earth, will be found there. It is unlike anywhere you have ever been, with rules and laws only unto itself.”
“Yeah, I’ve played Mortal Kombat before,” Xander retorted flippantly. Meeting Yu-Ti’s stare, he knew that it had probably been a mistake.
“…in each City resides an Immortal Weapon, like yourself, with their own icon and fighting style. Each as unique as you, Iron Fist,” Yu-Ti continued, beginning to see just how annoying the new Iron Fist could be. “During the last convergence, your predecessor refused to fight. For this he was to be stripped of his gifts. He resisted, and another City’s champion was killed. He then fled, and the celebration ended in disgrace for us all.”
Xander looked away, frowning. He already knew all that. And, it was all true, from one perspective or another. What disgrace was there in refusing to fight in a Tournament that would have destroyed a man? And would it have belonged to the City, the August Personage in Jade, or Orson alone?
“Was it?” The Iron Fist questioned, staring up at the ruler of K’un-L’un. “Orson fought bravely, here and on Earth. He did the right thing, and he died a hero. He was so used up by the end…was it so much a disgrace for him to choose not to fight?”
“The role of the Iron Fist, as it is with all of the Immortal Weapons, is to serve,” Yu-Ti stated, annoyed at the impudence of the boy. While K’un-L’un had taken in the odd orphan that stumbled upon their City, they had always been assimilated in the ways of the heavenly city. To learn culture as well as the correct way of living. “Orson disobeyed, and disgraced us all.”
“Acco-“ Xander tried to retort.
“Enough!” Yu-Ti shouted, his voice echoing the throne room. He glared at the boy that would defy his ruler. He would have to be dealt with. The Iron Fist would have to be made to respect the authority of the throne once again. “His actions brought shame to this City. And it will not happen again. Do you understand?”
Xander looked up at him, concentrating on controlling his emotions once again. “Yes, master.”
The August Personage in Jade nodded, though he was hardly satisfied. The boy had a rebellious streak that he would need to learn how to suppress. “Leave me. The Thunderer will take you to meet the rest of the Weapons.”
“Mom, I have to take it. Giles says it’s dangerous,” Buffy exclaimed annoyed, at how obstinant her mother was being. She had tried to do the right thing and tell her mother about the box. Unfortunately it hadn’t gone over as well as she had imagined it would.
“Honey, I’m sure he thinks so, but I have the documented history of this piece, and it’s been passed around for a long time,” Joyce replied. She had been slightly disturbed by how troubled her daughter had been, but there was hardly cause for concern. She was sure that Giles was an expert in his field, but she was also quite skilled in sourcing pieces. “If it was a danger, I’m sure it would have come up before now.”
Amy wasn’t so sure about that. She looked down at the Casket that lay on the table in front of her. Buffy’s mother had brought it out for them to see in the backroom of the gallery. While she wasn’t planning on messing with it, not without more information from Giles, she had cast a simple scanning spell. From the results she was getting, it was definitely a magical artifact of some kind. And a powerful one at that.
The witch looked up at the two. Things were getting heated, and while some amusement was to be gained from Kendra’s distanced stance watching over proceedings with a superior expression, it wasn’t the time. “There’s something definitely here. I don’t know if it does what Giles says it does, but there’s something mystical about this thing. And it has quite a kick, mystically speaking.”
Joyce sighed, knowing that Amy wasn’t lying. Of course, she still couldn’t just hand the thing over. “I am responsible for every item here. If one goes missing…”
Buffy thought about it hard. She knew that it was important to acquire the artifact for safe-keeping, but at the same time, she didn’t want her mother to lose her job. There had to be a solution that didn’t cause anybody any harm.
“How much is it supposed to go for?” Amy asked, looking at the box again. She had to admit, despite its origins, it was really quite pretty. There were intricate carvings in the wood that had faded with age and so hadn’t shown up in the pictures. It would probably make a good display piece or jewelry box, ignoring the magic and the fact that it was an extremely old artifact.
Joyce had to consult the documentation that had accompanied the item. “The owner is thinking that it might go for $10,000. But, it’s going up for auction in a week at a lower starting price. Why?”
“Well,” Amy said, wondering exactly how she would explain it without revealing too much. The listed history of the piece explained why the price was so low. And that was because it left off most of its history. “What about if we buy it? Mrs. Summers, what kind of price do you think it’ll go for if we offered to buy it now? It’s safer than having it go up for auctions.”
“Where would you get the money?” Mr. Summers asked, frowning slightly. It was a decent idea, and given the market, the owner of the gallery that she managed might be willing to let it go for a little less. “Giles? The Watchers’ Council?”
“Uh,” Amy stalled for time, glancing over at Kendra. She still had some qualms about the other Slayer. She was always so serious, and had significant loyalty to the Watchers. Xander had voiced concerns about them to her that were enough reason to be wary of them. “I was thinking that Xander would let us use his money.”
“Xander? Where would he have gotten $10,000 from?” The only adult in the room nearly exclaimed in surprise. She hated to admit it, but a part of her went back to the young man’s relationship with Ms. Calendar. She wondered exactly how much money Xander had.
Amy licked her lips nervously. “Orson left Xander everything. As an inheritance, I thought you guys knew. With the car and warehouse and everything.”
“I wasn’t aware that it included so much money though,” Joyce responded, shaking her head a little. “But, Xander’s out of town. And, ten thousand is a lot of money. How…”
“Jenny left me some money from Xander,” Amy explained. She shifted slightly, leaning against the table. “He said it was in case there was an emergency. It should be enough to cover the Casket, if we can buy it outright.”
“He gave you ten thousand dollars?” Buffy asked, eyes wide as she saw the witch in a new light. She couldn’t imagine anybody just giving her $10,000. Even if it was for emergency purposes only.
“Jenny said that Xander said that it was a trust thing,” Amy went on, looking at the astonished expression on the blonde Slayer’s face. She supposed that it might have been necessary, given how Xander had discovered her use of magic. He probably didn’t want her to do things that she shouldn’t be doing. It was annoying in a way, but at the same time touching that he cared enough to make sure that she stayed on the straight and narrow.
She turned back to Buffy’s mother. “So, can you ask how much we can get it for?”
Joyce just nodded numbly.
Xander walked silently on the smooth rock pathway, slightly behind Lei-Kung. He looked up ahead for what appeared to be a quarter mile at the towering rock that seemed to just float in the middle of the sky. It was the Heart of Heaven, and whatever magical forces had been used to create such a thing, it was impressive.
They reached the entrance to the Heart after a few minutes. A wide stone staircase led up to the main hall and there were a few people coming and going upon it. Xander knew that many had passed through it already. Revelers from across the Seven Cities had already travelled across the seven land bridges into the realm. Along with them were vendors selling food and crafts, as well as others that served the Tournament in an official capacity.
He knew that Jenny and the others had mostly gone ahead, and he trusted that Vi and Colleen would keep the others safe. Of course, it was hardly necessary given that their official status as part of his entourage meant that they were to be untouched. To do otherwise would have been dishonorable. Still, he had tasked Vi with keeping an eye on Lilah to ensure that she did nothing to interfere with the Tournament or discover his ruse. He may not want to fight, but that did not mean that he would do so without honor.
“Wait a moment,” Lei-Kung said, reaching into a pocket and pulling out a scroll. He passed it to Xander who opened it up and read it. “I do not know why you asked for this, but I have done as you requested. It is official.”
Xander smiled briefly as he finished reviewing the scroll. He rolled it back up and placed it in a pocket of his own, wondering exactly how things would play out once he played that card. “Thanks.”
“I do not need to remind you that under Tournament rules, all fighting amongst the Immortal Weapons and their followers is forbidden. You risk more than disqualification if it comes to pass,” the Thunderer stated, emphasizing his words. “You more than most.”
He knew that Xander could be strong-headed, and did not want him to act impetuously. Although, he had to admit, if only to himself, that some part of him also wanted to protect his own son. From Xander’s wrath, as well as what would happen if he broke the rules.
“I understand,” Xander said, knowing that whatever happened, he couldn’t let his emotions get the best of him and start a fight. He’d wallowed in them long enough as it was.
“While we have yet to receive independent confirmation on the exact strength and nature of his abilities, I believe that he is worth looking into,” Agent Coulson remarked, resting his hands on the armrests of the chair he was sitting in.
Director Fury frowned, looking through the report. While the second-hand reports of the subject’s powers were certainly impressive, he still had qualms about other aspects of the man’s character and personality. “Thorlief Golmen. Also known as Thor Odinson. AKA Thor. As in the real Thor.”
Phil nodded, somewhat hesitantly. The particular subject of investigation had not been his first choice. However, they were quickly running out of candidates, from an already small pool. “He has quite the following. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why he was suggested in the first place. His standing among certain, left-wing circles, would do much to counteract the effect of having Tony Stark as the visible face of the team.”
“I believe in demons. I believe in magic.” Fury stated, putting the report on his desk. He looked over at his right hand man. “Do you think that I believe that this man, all six feet five, 285 pound of Aryan looking stock, is the Norse God of Thunder? And that the Norse God of Thunder would spend his time protesting against the military-industrial complex and corporate polluters? Not to mention his self-help books and self-empowerment lectures.”
“Like I said, it would be good PR.” It was all that Coulson could add. There was a part of him that was starting to suspect that their agency was losing some of its luster in the eyes of the Washington elite. They might even hinder them in order to support their own agendas. With their own exotic threat defense agency perhaps.
Fury nodded. “Okay, put a check on his file. I want an observation team in place. We need to confirm his abilities as well as his mental stability. If I’m convinced that he’s stable, then I will consider extending an invitation. Where is he now?”
Agent Coulson checked the file he had on his lap. “The latest report indicates that he is currently off the coast of Japan. He’s on a Greenpeace boat protesting against whalers.”
“Greenpeace,” Fury echoed. This is what it had come down to. As much as he may detest the jobs at times, the incompetency of others meant that he had to stay. “I-“
Director Fury was unable to finish his sentence as the phone on his desk rang. He looked at it, frowning as he recognized the number. He looked over at Phil. “Wait a second.”
Picking up the handset, the director of SHIELD spoke into it, “This is Director Fury.”
“Nick, it’s Dr. Warner. Is this a secured line?” The voice on the other side spoke.
Director Fury waved a hand, as he indicated that Phil should stay seated. He continued to speak into the telephone, “Yes. What’s wrong?”
“I thought you might want to know.” Dr. Warner didn’t exactly know how he should say it. In fact, he wasn’t actually supposed to tell anyone until the official reports had been made, but old ties died hard. And family was family. “Clint’s been injured. He’s been medevaced to Bagram Air Base. It’s…it’s bad.”
Dr. Warner took a breath, exhaling slowly through his nose. He didn’t have all the answers yet, but something strange had happened during that ambush. It was a wonder that no marines had lost their lives. Of course, that could still change.
Nick listened as the voice from the other side spoke to him from half a world away. “How bad?”
“Pretty bad,” Dr. Warner replied. He looked up, noticing as some surgeons walked past, from their fatigued expressions, he knew that they had worked on some of the men from Firefly Two Two. “He’s got multiple gunshot wounds, and a punctured lung. Those have been patched up, but he has a head injury too. The neurosurgeon’s going in now to try to relieve the swelling. We won’t know what the full damage will be until he’s finished.”
“What are his chances right now?” Nick asked, flashing back to his days in the service. He had served with Clint’s father in Vietnam, conducting less than legal missions deep in enemy territory. The elder Barton had saved his life more than once during their stint in the Phoenix Program. Clint had also been under his command at one point, before he had mustered out and started at SHIELD. He’d known the kid pretty much all of his life.
“It’s too early to tell,” Dr. Warner answered. “But, he was lucid when he came in. It’s a good sign. I don’t know exactly what you’re doing anymore, but if you can swing the authorization to come see him…”
“I’ll do what I can,” Director Fury said, thinking about which strings he’d have to pull. And how fast the next plane out would be. “Bill. Thanks.”
“No problem,” Dr. Warner said, hanging up the phone.
“Xander!” Vi shouted gleefully, rushing up to embrace her friend. It had been a few days since they had gotten to K’un-L’un, and she hadn’t had much time to see him.
Xander hugged her back, smiling as she let him go. He turned his attention to the other woman that had come out to meet him in the large entry hall. Looking her up and down, he exhaled audibly. “Wow.”
Jenny smiled, embracing him as well, and giving him a quick kiss. “Well, I figured that I might as well try to blend in a bit.”
Xander smiled back at her as well. She was dressed in what his mind informed him was a qí-páo, a traditional Chinese dress. Of course, given the wearer, it was made of red silk, and was cut to accentuate and reveal certain attributes. “I don’t think you could blend in anywhere you go.”
Jenny rolled her eyes slightly. It was corny, but sweet. “Glad you enjoy it so much.”
“Where are the others?” Xander asked, looking around. There were some people still milling about in the hall, some just looking at the decorations that were displayed, symbols of past glories, and some just passing through to other places in the Heart of Heaven.
“They’re already at your table,” Jenny answered. “Don’t worry, Colleen’s been keeping an eye on our lawyer friend.”
“Good.” Xander nodded. There may be time for some enjoyment for the girls, and he wanted them to have that opportunity, but there were still things to be wary of. As much as he may have wished, it wouldn’t be a vacation for any of them.
“We should go,” Lei-Kung remarked after a moment. He stepped forward, and waved a hand towards the entrance to the main meeting hall. It would serve as the primary meeting and eating place for the Tournament contestants. And though the festivities did not officially start, there were things that he wanted to get out of the way before things became official.
“Right,” Xander remarked as he looked at the Thunderer, then turned to face Jenny once again. “Go on ahead with Vi. I’ll catch up.”
Jenny smiled at him in support, taking his hand and squeezing it once before heading inside with Vi in tow.
“It’s really real now isn’t it?” Xander asked rhetorically, watching as his girlfriend and student headed into the main hall. He turned towards the war master, feeling a case of nerves. He pushed them down, concentrating on his breathing. The tightness in his stomach subsided. “Lead the way.”
“I managed to convince Tom to sell it for eight thousand,” Joyce said, placing the Casket into a small cardboard box. She added some packing peanuts into it, making sure that the small wooden chest would be protected. Taping it shut with packaging tape, she looked up as Amy opened her backpack and pulled out a large envelope.
Amy counted out the money, making thousand dollar stacks of hundred dollar bills. She ignored the eyes that were on her, though she felt slightly self-conscious. She doubted that galleries and auction houses usually dealt in cash, but exceptions were often made in regards to large sums of money. And eight thousand, which would likely get underreported, was large enough for an exception.
“What should we do with it?” Buffy asked, taking a seat on the table in the back of the shop as her mother scooped up the money and put it into the office safe.
“I have a safe place to keep it, until Giles can figure out how to dispose of it,” Amy answered, picking up her new acquisition. Odd that something so potentially dangerous fit into a small cardboard box.
“Why not just give it to Giles?” Buffy asked.
The witch looked over at the Slayer, frowning. “I’d rather keep it myself. But, since nobody is really going to know that we bought this thing, then the guys that are going to go after it might still come here. We’ll still need to stake it out.”
Buffy chose to ignore the first part of it, instead thinking about the logistics of the second. Hopping off the table, she walked closer to Amy and spoke softly, “I have a date tonight. I suppose Kendra can keep watch and call if they show up. But, since Willy still hasn’t come up with any more info, it’ll probably still be a while.”
Amy didn’t know if that was a hunch based on experience, or if it was just Buffy rationalizing. Either way, until Giles had some idea of where to look, it was safer than blundering around and just hoping that the thieves wouldn’t get tipped off. “I can set up an alarm spell too. Just in case.”
A ward would also have worked, but if the thieves had magical power, they might be able to detect it and know that someone was wise to their existence and target. That wouldn’t necessarily be smart, if they wanted to catch the thieves by surprise. An alarm spell would be much less easily detected.
“Okay,” Buffy said, nodding happily. While she would be there if need be, she didn’t particularly see why she couldn’t take some time off if she wasn’t strictly necessary to the night’s operation.
Xander stepped into the large room, scanning the space and the various inhabitants within it. The fighters and their accompaniment were segregated by City, seated at six round wooden tables that circled a large red carpet. In the center of the carpet, a four piece band played traditional Chinese instruments. A man in green silk robes was dancing to the music, while a few masked attendants brought food and drink to the people there.
Looking back at the fighters, Xander noted the characters from different Asian languages that had been painted upon their tables, designating which City each fighter represented. One table was empty save for the women that he had brought with him. That one was for K’un-L’un. That was one was his.
“Fat Cobra,” Lei-Kung noted, watching as Xander took in his opponents. He would fight at least twice, assuming he didn’t die in his first battle. And given how new Xander was to the realities of the Seven Cities of Heaven, there was much that he needed to learn.
Xander stared at the large Japanese man, built like a sumo wrestler. He wore blue robes and was seated next to two equally large men.
“Don’t let his size trick you,” Lei-Kung continued, whispering into the Iron Fist’s ear. “His size and strength are only outclassed by his speed.”
Xander didn’t like the sound of that. He continued counter-clockwise, taking in the next fighter. She was extremely pale and thin. Almost ashen white in complexion, as if she was dead. Dressed in black lace, with an odd spiked collar, the woman was a disturbing presence. Her entourage was equally creepy, made up of three pale thin men and an old woman dressed in funeral attire. They looked equally dead, and shriveled as if the life had been sucked out of them.
“The Bride of Nine Spiders,” Lei-Kung said, noting the second Immortal Weapon. “Her heart pumps the coldest blood imaginable…and horrors inconceivable to mortal men.”
Xander swallowed nervously. He didn’t know exactly what powers these warriors might have, but Lei-Kung’s tone was serious.
He continued down the line, watching as a handsome Chinese man in armor fed a large dog that was standing next to him. A few stray children wandered around him, an odd pick for companionship.
Lei-Kung nodded towards the man. “Dog Brother #1. An assassin who rules the under-city, and hero to all the strays on all the streets of the world. Even the Order of Teraka knows to keep its distance from him.”
Xander didn’t exactly like the sound of that either. He turned his head and inhaled sharply, noting the beauty of the next fighter. A woman dressed in red silk robes and an ornate headdress made of gold and black silk was seated daintily at the table. She was attended by a few other women almost equally well-coiffed. “Who is she?”
“Tiger’s Beautiful Daughter,” the Thunderer replied. “You have a habit of collecting women. I suggest you do not try it with her. Many a man has found his doom at her hand or in her bed.”
Xander didn’t bother to respond, instead turning to the next fighter in line. Different than the others, this one sat alone, in old brown robes that revealed nothing of his identity. He was eerily still, as if there was nothing alive underneath the ratty layers of cloth.
“The Prince of Orphans,” Lei-Kung said, almost in reverence. “Mysterious, even to we who cultivate unending mystery.”
“That’s helpful,” Xander replied sarcastically, gaze travelling on up to rest on the last of the fighters. His blood ran cold as he took in the appearance of Davos, the Steel Serpent. He was dressed in traditional Chinese dress, his mask adding to his aura of power. A mix of young women was seated at his table, along with a tall elderly woman with long knotted grey hair. He didn’t know who she was, but could tell that she had status.
“He represents K’un-Zi now,” Lei-Kung had to control his tone of voice to conceal the emotions that were ripping through him. “He is the Master of Cranes now.”
“Who’s the woman?” Xander asked, turning to look at the war master, to keep from leaping over to the man’s table and attempting to rip his throat out.
“The Crane Mother, ruler of K’un-Zi,” the Thunderer answered, trailing off as he saw Xander step forward. He moved to follow, prepared to act if Xander acted impetuously.
Xander strode forward, knowing that eyes were upon him. He didn’t care though, as he stopped in front of Davos’ table. The anger that he felt was impossible to control, and he made little attempt to do so. The Iron Fist stared down at Davos, looking impassively despite his feelings as the Steel Serpent stared back at him, a smirk on his face.
Xander leaned in, placing his hands on the smooth surface of the table. His face was cold and hard, belaying the emotions that the man on the other side of the table knew must be there. The Iron Fist smiled suddenly, picking up one of the porcelain cups of tea that a passing waiter had just place upon the table. He stood up, raising it in front of him, staring down at the Steel Serpent again. Xander spoke loudly, for all to hear, “To Davos, who defeated one Iron Fist already.”
Xander spun around, facing the others in the room. He still held the cup of tea above him. “The Steel Serpent only needed fifty men to soften him up first. Let us hope that he decides to follow the rules of honor now that people are going to be watching.”
Drinking the tea, Xander turned around again, staring at Davos once more. He threw the teacup at the wall behind his nemesis, hearing it shatter. He leaned in again, though there was no need as he was still nearly shouting, “Your death will come at my hands, you son of a-!“
“Thunderer!” the Crane Mother broke in as she stepped forward. Her voice hard and sharp. “Conflict between Immortal Weapons before the Tournament is forbidden. Can you not control your warrior yet again?”
Xander growled, nearly audibly and turned his righteous anger towards the old woman. “At least K’un-L’un can field a warrior. Not a whipped dog that can’t bear a real fight.”
He leaned around her, looking at Davos once again. “Orson is twice the man you will ever be. And twice the warrior.”
Lei-Kung stepped forward at that. While a part of him did want to defend his son, the fact was that he really couldn’t. Emotional, and familial, connection could not come into the situation. Not with the things that had been done. He, as always, had his duty.
“The warrior of K’un-L’un’s anger is just,” Lei-Kung said, looking at the ruler of K’un-Zi. He turned towards Xander, stepping in front of him and the people of their sister City. “If inappropriate at this time.”
Xander bowed his head, partly in shame. He breathed in and out rhythmically, turning and walking towards his table. He could feel the eyes on him, yet could not find it in himself to care.
The old woman from The Bride of Nine Spiders’ table stood up and walked toward the center of the room, the musicians stopping their song and moving away from the center. The dancer followed with him. After they had gone, she spoke, “we have all set aside our blood feuds for this night, Crane Mother. Lei-Kung. Allow me to now cast the holy tiles to see which champion shall entertain us as we begin the first night’s feast…”
“So what did you think?” Scott asked, picking up their drinks and bringing them over to a table by the window of the coffee shop. Buffy followed, taking a seat in one of the chairs while Scott placed the coffees on the table.
“Well, it was funny,” Buffy replied, pausing to take a sip from her latte. “I haven’t seen much Keaton, but I think I’d have to say I’d like to see more.”
Scott smiled. “Well, The General is one of his best movies. Not really well-received in its time though. Now though, pure cinematic genius. He even did the majority of his own stunts. I mean the really dangerous ones.”
Buffy smiled as Scott went on. He could go on quite a bit about movies, and Buster Keaton in general. She had to admit, it was nice to have a boy that was into more than just when the next apocalypse was going to happen.
“And, I am totally boring you right now aren’t I,” Scott said, noticing Buffy’s zoned out expression.
Buffy suppressed her shock, snapping back into attention. She shook her head as she looked back at Scott. “No, sorry, I guess I’m not that into movie history. I really did like the movie though. In fact, we should totally do it again. With a different movie of his.”
“Okay,” Scott said, smiling. He was really starting to like Buffy, and was glad that she was willing to share his interest. She was flighty sometimes, and had the oddest emergencies, but he was hoping that it was just nerves. After a serious boyfriend, he could understand the tension. But, it’s been months, so he figured that she was ready to start moving on. He didn’t want to be the rebound.
“Yeah, definitely. We can even do a double feature. I’m sure there’s movies I like that you’ve never seen before,” Buffy went on. “In fact-“
The ring of her cell phone cut her off, and she pulled the phone out of her purse. Buffy frowned as she looked at the display on the front. It was Amy. She opened it up as she looked up at Scott sheepishly. “Sorry, I have to take this.”
Scott just nodded.
“Hi,” Buffy said into the phone with mixed emotions. Amy wouldn’t have called unless something came up, and that was enough to make her nervous.
“They’re here,” Amy whispered into her phone, peeking over the edge of the rooftop she was hiding on top of. She watched as a team of four got out of a van. She had managed to get a look at two of them as it drove up, their appearances matching the information that Willy had provided. “They’re going to try to break in. I count four of them, and I think you should get down here.”
“I’m on my way. Should only take me five minutes,” Buffy said seriously going into Slayer mode. She looked back at Scott, shrugging in embarrassment. “Sorry, a friend has an-“
“Emergency,” Scott cut in; it was a familiar excuse for her to cut out early. He was sure that it had been for good cause most of the time, but he was starting to question how much trouble Buffy’s friends could get themselves into. “I know. You should go help your friend.”
“Thanks for understanding. I’ll call you,” Buffy said, getting up and rushing towards the door.
Scott merely waved goodbye, watching her leave. He frowned, not knowing what to do. Half the time it was like she wanted to be there, but there was always something holding her back. It wasn’t Angel anymore, that much he was pretty sure on. He hadn’t seen that guy around town for months.
Deciding, he got up and headed towards the door. He looked both ways down the sidewalk, watching as she made good time up the street. He followed quickly, having to move quickly in order to just keep up. Scott tried to do it as stealthily as possible though, so as not to get caught.
It was stupid, but he just couldn’t help himself.
“What was that?” Faith asked, looking at Xander as he took a seat at the table that had been assigned to them. She had never seen him angry before. It was a shocking occurrence, and from the expressions on the faces of the other women at the table, it was a shock for them as well.
Jenny looked at Xander sympathetically, placing a hand on his leg.
Xander didn’t respond to her touch. He took a breath, looking across the way at Davos’ table. He was still there, as content as ever. He looked back over at Faith, still attempting to calm himself down. “He killed someone, someone that I was close to. He did it in front of me. I couldn’t stop him, and I couldn’t save…”
The Iron Fist turned his attention to Lilah. He could tell that she was beginning to put the pieces together. “I couldn’t save the previous Iron Fist. Orson Randall. And, there’s something you should know.”
“What’s that?” Lilah asked, suddenly unsure of how to play things. It was one thing to have the weight of Wolfram and Hart behind her, even in new situations. But, this was something else entirely. While some Wolfram and Hart lawyers did do legal work across dimensions, she had little experience in the area. And given how well Xander was doing so far, it was pretty clear that he could do quite a bit of harm if push came to shove.
Xander reached down into a pocket and pulled out the scroll he had been given earlier. He passed it over to Lilah, who unrolled it.
“I can’t read this,” Lilah said as she scanned the writing. She looked over at him, partially in accusation, partly in confusion.
“I lost the Tournament,” Xander said grimly.
“What?” Lilah asked. “It hasn’t even started yet.”
“No,” Xander stated. “I’m still fighting in it, but not for Wolfram and Hart. See, I am the representative for K’un-L’un. Which means that I can’t be one for you. Which means that I’m disqualified from fighting for you. Which is a loss.”
“And you knew this from the beginning,” Lilah said, beginning to put things together, feeling like an idiot for doing it when it was too late.
Xander shrugged. “Yeah. Like I said, I’d enter the Tournament on your behalf, but anything that happens after, well, that’s up to the rules to determine. And they say I’m out. Which means that you’re out to, since I’ve fulfilled the terms of the contract.”
“Do you have any idea what Wolfram and Hard will do to you?” Lilah asked, although she was really thinking about what Wolfram and Hart would do to her.
“I have some idea,” Xander replied, smiling grimly. That had been Wolfram and Hart’s fundamental flaw. A lack of insight that blinded them to the fact that he might not actually want to fight in the Tournament. “But, there’s the thing. As official representative of K’un-L’un, I’m also a citizen of K’un-L’un. And as Champion, those with me are recognized as being associated with the City. An attack on them or me, and that constitutes an act of war. Wolfram and Hart isn’t going to do that. They can’t risk the numbers.”
“It’s not that easy,” Lilah retorted, shaking her head. “You think that they’re just going to forget this? You pull one over on them and they’ll just let you be?”
“No I don’t,” Xander said, knowing that she was really thinking about herself. “But, we’ll call it even. A contract’s a contract, and there’s stuff that Orson pulled out that they don’t want out there. Besides, I’ve dealt with them once before, and it’s in their best interest to keep trying to recruit me. Maybe one of these days, they might even succeed.”
Lilah could see that he had thought about it for a long time. There was not a likely chance of him being turned by the law firm, but enough of one to not try to take him out. It had been planned carefully and intricately, perhaps ever since Orson had determined who she was. At least she had found out who had killed him. And what would be done about it. “Is Orson really your father?”
Xander just looked at her. “I think that’s the first honest question you’ve ever asked me.”
Lilah said nothing, folding back into her cold persona as defense.
“To answer it, in every way that really mattered, yeah,” Xander said as gently as possible. “I think he cared about you somehow, and maybe I just had to see this one out since he couldn’t. But, you’re out too, so try to make the best of it.”
Faith continued to look at Xander. There were some depths there that she hadn’t expected. Which made her aware that she didn’t exactly know him that well. Her previous presumption was mainly that he was a guy, with some power maybe, with all that that entailed.
She glanced over at her Watcher, noticing a calculated expression on her face. One that didn’t appear on Vi’s Watcher’s face. She didn’t know what it meant, but she did know that she didn’t like it.
Buffy ducked and rolled, an axe slamming into the brick wall behind her. Chunks of it exploded into the alley behind the gallery that she was standing in. Regaining her feet, the Slayer grabbed a wooden pallet and swung it hard, smashing it against the demon’s shoulder.
Vyasa crashed into the wall, losing his grip on his axe. He growled and swung wildly, a flailing fist that caught the Slayer that had interrupted their heist in the chest.
Buffy exhaled as she stumbled back, stunned from the strong blow. The orange scaly-skinned demon was stronger than he looked. And considering how large he was, that was saying something.
“Buffy, get done!” Amy shouted as she cast the spell she had been preparing. She waited until Buffy had dropped to the ground, then sent the floating piece of rebar into the demon’s upper chest. It struck with a bloody thump, impaling the wannabe thief to the brick wall behind him.
Vyasa grimaced, coughing out thick blood as he started to pull himself off of the metal sticking out of him.
Buffy knelt down and picked up the large axe that the demon had previously wielded. Swinging it quickly, she decapitated the demon, Vyasa slumping down onto the rebar as his head left its body. The fight was completely out of him now.
She turned, looking for more enemies, which were currently engaged with the other Slayer. Kendra had already taken down one, now kicking one of them in the face as she pushed a pale almost human-looking demon across the alleyway and into the tall retaining wall that bordered the back of it.
From the description, Buffy figured that it was Menlo, the leader of a gang. Winding up, she threw the axe, the weapon circling through the air until it stopped with a thud in the head of the demon. As she did so, Kendra stabbed the remaining thief in the heart with a stake, the vampire exploding into dust.
“Dat is all of dem,” Kendra said, looking around her at the three corpses that were strewn along alleyway. The ground was littered with evidence of their battle, from broken pallets and make-shift weapons, to splashes of demonic blood.
“What should we do with the bodies?” Buffy asked, wishing that they had been vampires. That at least would have meant easy cleanup.
“I got it covered,” Amy said, gathering mystical energy into herself. She concentrated on the three corpses, waving her hands in an intricate pattern as her eyes glowed red. The witch watched as they burst into brilliant blue flames, engulfing the dead flesh and blood and burning it into ash. There would be nothing there that revealed their presence, nor that of the women responsible for the deaths of four demons.
“What the hell?” a voice shouted from the distance.
Buffy spun around, eyes wide as she recognized the voice. She watched as a brown-haired teenager stepped into the area behind the art gallery. There was no trying to hide anything as Scott revealed himself, looking as if he was going to be sick.
Xander looked on impassively as Fat Cobra stood in the main hall, off to the side of the circle of tables. The Immortal Weapon had doffed his robe and was clad only in a black mawashi, the traditional belt worn by sumo wrestlers during matches. Fat Cobra had tattoos all over his chest, back, and arms. Black vertical lines of kanji that he couldn’t quite make out. Large red characters had been inked onto the center of the sumo’s broad chest. Possibly alluding to girth or serpentine nomenclature.
Xander briefly wondered whether all the Immortal Weapons had some type of tattoo marking them as Champions for their various cities. As Fat Cobra moved forward, he turned his attention to the large man’s opponents. One hundred shaolin terror priests stood before him, armed in a combination of swords, spears, and other sharp weapons. Against nearly any other type of warrior, it would have been odds that nobody would choose to face. But, against an Immortal Weapon, it was nothing more than an exposition match. At least, that was the idea.
“Watch him closely, Iron Fist,” the Thunderer said, as he sat next to the City’s chosen. “Take advantage of this demonstration of his technique.”
Xander nodded as the battle begun, watching as Fat Cobra strode into action. He was astonished as the large man flipped into the air, landing in the midst of the terror priests. Fat Cobra jabbed forward with an open palm, the blow catching one of the robed opponents in the face unawares which sent him flying into the wall of the hall.
The sumo ducked under a swing of a sword, and spun out of the way of a spear’s tip. He swept an arm out, breaking the spear’s shaft. Fat Cobra moved forward again, grabbing two of the terror priests by the arms and throwing them into their brethren. He did not take the time to admire his work, instead moving on to the men that were still standing.
The Iron Fist watched as Fat Cobra sent a combination of strikes into his opponents. Twenty-two Harmony Strike bled into a Long Punch of Enlightened Buddha that sent a terror priest into blissful unconsciousness or worse.
He gauged his potential Tournament opponent; sizing up his defenses, offenses, and looked for weaknesses. He could find none of the latter. And extreme amounts of the former as he saw Fat Cobra smack four of the terror priests in the neck with a broad forearm.
Fat Cobra then leapt into the air, coming down hard on the stone floor, throwing up a wave of crackling energy. “Sumo Thunder Stomp!”
The energy wave blasted terror priests into the air, some impacting against the mystical shield that separated the battle from those observing it.
Pulling his arms back, Fat Cobra slammed them forward in a vicious clap, the kinetic energy tossing even more terror priests to the ground in a slump.
Xander watched blankly as the giant of a man continued to fight. Fat Cobra was an enigma. He was as large and strong as an ox, but he wasn’t slow. At all.
“Scott!” Buffy exclaimed, as the boy she had been dating walked closer to her cautiously. She had no idea what she could say to explain to him what had happened. While Sunnydalers had a tendency to rationalize and forget the inexplicable things that had happened, she got the feeling that that wouldn’t happen here. He had probably seen the whole thing and had only spoken up when the battle had concluded.
Annoyance at the fact that he had followed her came to mind, but disappeared in the wake of more pressing concerns. Besides, it wasn’t like she hadn’t given him some reason to think that things weren’t quite right.
“What were those things?” Scott asked, looking around at the others in the alleyway. The streetlights from the street behind the alley revealed enough that he could identify the others there. He recognized Amy from school, and the other he had seen around the town. Though she wasn’t going to their high school, he knew that the dark-skinned girl was one of Buffy’s friends. “And the thing with the fire?”
Amy said nothing, taking a step back, a hand on the bag she had slung over her shoulder. She knew a spell that could be utilized to strip the boy of the memory of what had taken place, but it shouldn’t be used. Jenny had taught her not only a breadth of spellwork, but also the knowledge to use them responsibly. And Lethe’s bramble was not something to be used lightly, despite how easy it would be to cast it.
Kendra said nothing as well, easily identifying the boy that Buffy was going out with. He had obviously followed Buffy from their date, her fellow Slayer somehow, and not unsurprisingly, failing to notice that she was being tailed. While secrecy was paramount, the number of people that knew about mystical occurrences meant that some leeway had to be given. Not to mention that they were on a mystical convergence. She would take Buffy’s lead on this. For now anyhow.
Buffy sighed, knowing from the intent expression on Scott’s face that he wouldn’t accept any excuses. Especially the lame ones that were popping up in her mind. “Those were demons. They were going to break in and steal something powerful. Powerful and bad. Oh, and Amy can do magic.”
“You mean like that thing in New York?” Scott asked, remembering the reports of a green monster ripping apart New York City not that long ago.
“I don’t know what that was, but pretty much. Yeah,” Buffy replied sheepishly.
“And you fight these things?” Scott asked, taking it all in stride. Sunnydale had always been a weird place, and with weird things spreading out across the country, it all started to come together. He wouldn’t necessarily have pegged it on demons and magic, but there was definitely something going on in the world that nobody was talking about. “Cause you slammed that pallet like it was a pillow.”
“I’m a Slayer, so is Kendra,” Buffy explained, nodding towards her fellow Slayer. “We’re…mystically enhanced. The whole super-strength and speed dealie. It’s like, our calling.”
“Wow,” Scott said, looking at Buffy in a new light. It certainly explained all of the mysterious need to be elsewhere incidents. He had thought it might be drugs, and this was definitely better. “That’s actually kind of cool.”
Buffy smiled hopefully, glad that he was taking it well. For now at least.
“Hoo-tah!” Fat Cobra exclaimed raising a fistful of metal masks in each hands. The broken one hundred terror priests lay all around him, a testament to the warrior’s power and skill. “One hundred shaolin terror priests felled before my tea has cooled.”
Looking at the scene, Xander could see just how dangerous this one Immortal Weapon was. If he and Davos were any indication, he was greatly in over his head. He knew that one hundred terror priests would have been more than a challenge for himself. Especially considering that with their masks ripped off, it had been revealed that the terror priests were actually artificial constructs of some sort, likely mystical in nature. He had no idea how to fight Fat Cobra, let alone beat him. Surviving would be a challenge in and of itself.
“As the last of the terror priests fall, Heaven’s Heart becomes whole again and so begins the Tournament of our fates.” The old woman that led the city that The Bride of Nine Spiders represented bowed to the victor. “Breathtaking work Fat Cobra. And now, as a thank-you for your fine sportsmanship and skills, you are allowed to choose who your first opponent shall be.”
“It is my honor, most venerated Spider-Mistress,” Fat Cobra replied, nodding his thanks in appreciation of her words. “Since his blood is so clearly hot and eager for combat, and it is an opportunity to regain the honor lost from the unpleasantness at the last Tournament, allow me to choose the Immortal Iron Fist.”
Xander just looked at the giant sumo. Once more, his emotions had gotten the best of him. Not only did he have to fight, he had to fight first. “Oh crap.”
“How are you doing kid,” Nick spoke softly as he stood next to the injured Clint Barton’s hospital bed. The young man had been through surgery, and numerous bandages were wrapped around his injuries. He looked like hell.
“Ready to get off my ass, sir,” Clint spoke as loudly as he could, though it was almost as quiet as a whisper. His head was pounding, and his torso still ached, but he was getting antsy. He could only think about how his squad was doing.
“I wouldn’t think about that for a while,” Nick said, placing a hand on the sergeant’s shoulder. He had managed to get his hands on the after-action report. If anyone deserved time to rest, it was Barton. The men of Firefly Two Two owed their lives to their sergeant. Rendered combat ineffective and caught in an ambush, they all said that Barton had single-handedly held off the assault until the cavalry had arrived. The common response was that it had been nothing less than extraordinary.
“My men,” Clint croaked out.
“Here, take it easy.” Nick picked up a pitcher of water that lay on a table next to the hospital bed and poured a cup. He handed it to Clint who sipped it gratefully. “They’ll be fine. Steakley’s been reassigned to take over while you’re recuperating. He’ll take care of your boys.”
The marine just nodded. He didn’t know the man personally, but his reputation was solid. Still, he didn’t like having to sit out the fight, while the rest of his team was still in the thick of it.
“The talk is that you’ll be up for a Silver Star for this. Along with the Purple Heart. Some damn fine work, son,” Nick continued on. “You remember much about what happened?”
Clint shook his head. “Not after that RPG landed right next to me. Good thing I had the Humvee door between me and it. I don’t…I don’t remember much about what happened afterwards.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Fury said in reassurance. It wasn’t an uncommon happening after such injuries. “But, the way your men tell it, you were a maniac. Some real sharp shooting, kid.”
“Thank you, sir,” Clint said, conflicted. It was all so hazy, but some things had started coming back to him. It was just bits and pieces, but he could remember firing on the enemy. He chocked it up to the fog of war, and the damage he had sustained, but he remembered some impossible shots. Things that he once could only have accomplished with his DMR, he was pulling off with his M4, and that was taking into account the fact that the ISM-V combo scope and laser sight module on the carbine he had used had been rendered nonfunctional in the fight.
It just didn’t add up.
Author's Note: The first story in this series has been nominated for Best Comic Crossover. Thanks for everyone that nominated and voted.
Also, in case anybody was wondering, this is what the Immortal Weapons look like (in mostly alphabetical order):