Eda rolled through the city streets on her Harley it was a big monster that she had invested a lot of time, effort and Church of Violence money in rebuilding to her specifications. She had tracked the chaos to this particular street. She could hear the sounds of battle up above. In the alleyway in front of her was a familiar car and she smiled as she cruised slowly to a halt beside. Rock was inside and from the look of him he was pissed.
"Chang wants us to pull out." he summarized after he had explained the substance of his talk with the triad boss.
Eda wasn't surprised. You didn't get to be the head off a major Triad Stronghold by being anything less then a ruthless bastard. Eda was surprised that Rock was so determined to defiantly stand up to the man. Then again Rock had hidden reserves of brass that continued to surprise everyone in town who mattered. "So Rock, ya think we're gonna get a happy ending out of this?" she asked him speculatively.
Rock returned her thoughtful gaze, "Nobody wants to step down from the stage and things are getting out of hand."
"Well the Americans are likely to survive this." Eda supplied casually, "In fact, I would not be surprised if the Maid comes through this in one piece as well."
Rock nodded, "What about Xander, He's survived quite a bit in his time but this is a little outside his box."
"Once a survivor, always a survivor," Eda smiled grimly, "He won't back down until his precious Slayers are out of harm's way. The FARC might complicate things a little but all they want is The Maid. For them, Xander is just in the way, collateral damage."
Rock exhaled as inspiration struck, "The Americans need to leave the city and without the Slayers if it’s possible. We need to get them out in a way that doesn't draw attention either to the Marines themselves or to Roanapur."
"Not bad Rock," Eda smiled, "Xander is in this for the Slayers. Once he has them he's gonna get out of the line of fire. The Maid wants the Slayers but at the end of the day what she really wants is the Americans. The FARC are looking for the Maid, they'll only get involved with the Americans if stopping The Maid means going through them. And of course, the Americans want their little drug lord."
"Too bad I can't provide the Americans their target. That would be the perfect end to all of this. They liquidate their target and leave the City. They'd have no need of the Slayers and Xander and the Watchers could take charge of them."
"Well a little birdie tells me that a certain Triad Boss with a taste for the ladies is swinging by. Seems someone done went and blowed-up his slaving operation real good. He'd like to get a little payback."
Rock was shocked, "You mean General Sheu Yan is coming here. That's going to make things more complicated."
Eda smiled wolfishly, "Funny I thought you just said that if the Americans completed their mission, getting them out of the city will be much easier. If the General is dead or if the Grey Foxes get their man they won't need the Slayers and once the Marines and Slayers are gone The Maid's vengeance crusade ends. She goes home with the Lovelace boy and all is right with the world again. Of course convincing everybody that our plan is the best way for everyone to get what they want might be tricky but I'm sure a bright person can figure out a way."
Rock looked at the Nun thoughtfully, "A boat, it just might work if we got them out of the city by boat. Can you make things happen on your end?"
"Well duh, you think? Of course we need a way to make sure that when the Marines leave the Slayers behind; The Maid is discouraged from continuing the pursuit."
"I'll have to talk to Dutch but I think there might be a way, Of course, if the Watchers come we need them to concentrate on Xander and the Slayers. If they get involved with the Marines or worse the General ..."
"Rock baby, I'm gonna give you a little lesson. It will keep you alive and it comes in handy. The less extra information people have the better. You tell someone something they don't need to know or can't deal with, and they'll either panic and cause you problems or get over-confident and screw up. Decide what you want out of the situation and that will tell you what your allies NEED to know."
"So what do the Watchers need to know?" Rock asked.
"That Xander is in harm's way and he is trying to rescue the Slayers who are also in danger." Eda explained as if to a slow student, "They don't need to know why the Americans are here unless The General makes a move that threatens the Slayers. Same thing with the FARC; unless they're stupid enough to try and pick a fight with the Watchers, why should they need to know about the Cartel's kill squad."
Rock looked at Eda critically, " So if what you say is true then there's stuff you haven't told me isn't there?"
Eda smiled at Rock proudly, "Now, now, Rock, if I told you what I wasn't telling you then you'll either cause problems by panicking or you'll get cocky and screw-up. Right now you know exactly what you need to know to make this situation end favorably for everyone we care about." With that the Nun fired up her bike and went riding off into the night
Rock looked at her. Everyone it seemed who survived in this place was good at manipulating information and people. He wasn't sure he wanted to be like that but he did want Xander to make it out of this in one piece. He looked at his phone and smiled quietly to himself. He had to do this carefully like Chang and Eda did. He opened the phone and dialed the number Rupert Giles had given him.
There was an answering click on the other side of the line and a bubbly female voice answered. "Slayer Central -- We stop your apocalypse in thirty minutes or its free; Buffy speaking."
Rock had been expecting to talk to one of the lower level girls and for a wild moment considered abandoning his plan. Manipulating random Slayers was one thing, but the General of the Slayer Army. Buffy was someone that Xander respected --still, that was the wrong way to think. Chang never thought of it as manipulating things. He just did things; made moves that were in the island's, and his, best interest. He told you what you needed to know to further that agenda. Rock just had to adapt that policy for his own use.
"Hi this is Orokuro Okajima, Ms Summers. Xander's friend ...from Roanapur you might know me as Rock."
"Rocky, screw that Ms. Summers crap; I am so not even as close to organized as she was -- call me Buffy."
"Alright, I was hoping to talk to you anyway."
"Is this about Shunsi, that girl is really coming along. She’s going to be a first rate Slayer." Buffy proclaimed. She was referring to the young ex-Slayer slave Rock had risked his life to save. The youngster had come to really be attached to him. Rupert Giles had hinted that they might make a good team should Rock accept his proposal of being a part-time Watcher.
"Actually I'm calling about Xander. He has turned up in Roanapur again and I'm going to need help extracting him from his latest predicament."
Buffy snorted "Big shock, who's the female and how dangerous is she?"
Rock was surprised for moment but realized she was being sarcastic Xander had mention his danger-prone tendencies had gotten him a bit of a reputation. “I sure he thinks he has everything under control but..."
"Rocky I know the girls who came back from Roanapur told me you and Xander started this whole bro-mance thing so I'll let you in a little secret. Xander never has the situation as under control as he think he does I have no idea why he does these crazy things I mean jumping on a plane and going halfway around the world to smash a slaving operation what was he ever thinking."
"If I was to guess I'd say he wants to feel like he's earned the respect you have for him." There was silence on the other end of the line. "Of course I could be wrong I am the new guy after all." He amended quickly hoping he had not lost his audience. "Anyway there is a situation and I'll need help."
"Well I can spare a few of the girls. They keep asking about him anyway. Hey I can arrange to have Shunsi come out there; you guys should spend some time together as Watcher and Slayer anyway. So, “Buffy asked with amusement thick in her voice, "What's Xander into and how dangerous is she?"
"How do you know there's a dangerous female involved?"
"Are you kidding me? It’s Xander. So who is she?"
"A woman named Rosarita Cisneros. They call her The Bloodhound of Florencia." Rock explained the situation to Buffy making sure to edit out any details regarding the true mission of the Marines or the fact that the FARC would happily kill anyone or anything that got in the way of their vengeance against the Bloodhound.
There was a single muttered curse from the other end of the line. "Your kidding me this chick is hunting Slayers, and Xander is HELPING her."
This was the important part. He had to keep Buffy and company focused on Xander and the Slayers. "My understanding of the situation was that he either helped her target the Slayers she wants to find; or she threatened to go on a general hunt which might have brought her to you. I'm guessing you've already figured out that would not be an ideal scenario."
There was frenzied talking from the other end of the line, including at one point a maddened screech of "I will kill that son of a bitch."
Buffy could be heard soothing the person. “Willow calm down you can’t kill Xander, until I kill him."
Suddenly Buffy was talking to him and Rock needed a second to understand what she was asking “Excuse me?'
"I asked where you are."
"In Roanapur; it’s an island...."
"No I meant where in Roanapur are you. What's the location?"
"An alleyway near the Warehouse district."
"Standard kind of alleyway right? About twelve feet of clearance, right? OK I need you to back your car out a little; actually I need you to back it out a lot."
"OK," Rock fired up Benny's car and backed out of the alley "Why did I do that?"
"...Because you still want a car when this is over." Buffy answered quickly before issuing more unheard commands. If Rock was right she was mobilizing an army.
Buffy hung up suddenly leaving Rock wondering if he had screwed up somehow. Then there was a kind of electrical discharge. It began filling the alleyway as well a strong wind began picking up objects and even shaking the car. The discharge and shaking increased in strength until a huge globe flared into life. A shocked Rock watched as figures began stepping from this strange globe. A short blonde woman armed with something that looked like an axe was first. Behind her came several more females variously armed with an incongruous collection of medieval weaponry. In their midst was a tall man with glasses who was looking around with obvious distaste. At his side was another female this one dressed in earthy colours. One of the women was sticking close to her and they hugged briefly after Red Hair waved her arms dramatically. The globe vanished as quickly as it had flared into life. This was clearly the much rumored Willow of whom Xander had occasionally spoken.
Buffy looked around and caught sight of Rock. She marched over to the car and leaned into the window casually as if the preceding few seconds were entirely normal. "So Rocky, what's going on and how deep in it is Xander exactly?"
Riley Finn was doing his job. Maybe that was how he had managed to make it though the last few days by reducing everything to the simplicity of doing his job. Manuela and Maria the two Slayers under his supervision were his responsibility. Taking care of them and making sure they were ready to do their part was his part of the operation. Maria was a competent enough operative. She learned quickly and performed more or less flawlessly. Manuela was another matter entirely. It wasn't that the Slayer was incompetent. Quite the opposite, she was every bit as deadly a fighter as all the other Slayers he had encountered. In some ways she was better then Maria. Sometimes Finn could swear that she seemed to be able to read where blows were going to land before they were launched. Still there was something very off about her. She seemed to look at the world as if she was moving though smoke and fog. Often she would remark on events that had either not yet happened or that she should have no knowledge of in the first place.
Finn was expected to be an expert in the abilities and powers of Slayers. That was why he had been cross promoted from his army unit into the Grey Foxes. He had been contacted months ago and asked to travel to Venezuela to rendezvous with Dinkins. The black ops man had presented him with the two women. They had been blunt. He was still the only person with extended contact with Slayers. That made him an ideal handler. Dinkins had showed Reily pictures of the Slaver Camp from which the girls had been freed. Finn was not a man easily moved to throw up but it had been touch and go for a while.
Reily had no illusions about what might happen to the girls if he wasn't around. Dinkins was a ruthless bastard and Finn had little doubt that had he refused to help the man would have found someone else, someone whose loyalty to the girl's well being was much more questionable.
The team was enjoying a brief moment of rest. Their pursuers had let up on their near constant bombardment of fire and smoke. Finn wasn't naive enough to assume that situation would remain permanent. Claxton was sure they were being allowed to move though the hallways of the giant warehouse. Common sense dictated that if the enemy wanted them here then it was because this was the last place they were going to be safe.
He looked up, the recon squad had returned. Maria was with them. Manuela had been antsy as hell so Finn had ordered Maria to accompany the squad. Whatever was waiting for them in here was unlikely to be prepared for the abilities of the Slayer. Of course Finn was only hoping on that score. So far their opponent had been an ungodly amount of steps ahead of them.
"Medic!" one of the Marines screamed as he ran into the hastily assembled camp. "Medic, I got a young civilian male approximately twelve years of age."
Riley dashed over and examined the boy he was still unconscious but seemed otherwise unharmed. "He's fine; I'd say it was shock. Where'd you find him?"
The GI indicated Xander who looked like death. He was pale and sweating but seemed otherwise unharmed.
"We encountered him during our sweep he asked for our help. Said the kid had almost gotten caught in the crossfire. I'm guessing our enemy isn't too picky about who they take a shot at."
"Xander, what are you doing here?" Reily asked "Of all the places on earth for you to be in..."
Xander looked at him balefully before rushing him swinging his fist. "You limp-dick son of a bitch." He screamed.
Finn's head snapped back with the force of Xander's punch. He was staggering back when Xander grabbed him, hauling him back and screaming at him. "How could you, you degenerate scumbag how could you have done it, you tell me?"
Finn blocked Xander's next punch. "I'll admit I might have ONE coming but you aren't making me your punching bag Harris. Now grow up."
What Xander thought of that was lost amid the scuffle of bodies as he and Reilly started scrapping. Their fight only ended with a loud voice screaming "Atenn-shun!"
A lifetime of training made Reily snap to attention; standing up straightening his shoulders and looking dead ahead while emptying his mind of all thought. Almost all thought since at least a small part of him noticed that Xander did the same thing.
"What in Christ's holy name is going on here?" Claxton screamed as he approached the small group.
The Marines who had headed the Recon squad spoke up, “Sir we made contact with ..." he began but Claxton swiftly cut him off.
"I don't recall asking you a Goddamn thing." He turned his gaze on Reilly. "Now Finn, would you like to tell me please what in hell you are thinking fighting like a junkyard dog in the middle of an operation."
"I was attacked sir. I was only defending myself from Harris."
Claxton looked at Xander who was still looking dead ahead his eyes began to track Claxton's movements Claxton decided to test something. "Eyes Front, Soldier. You are at Attention until I say otherwise do you have a listening disorder."
"Sir, No Sir!” Xander cried out. If possible he managed to draw himself even more to attention.
"L-T this is a civilian is he not? Might you be able to explain to me why he currently looks better then some West Point grads I’ve known."
"Sir, Harris and the rest of the population of Sunnydale were the victims of a psycho-kinetic event several years ago. The result was that Harris along with the rest of the population was briefly inhabited by the costumes they wore on Halloween. Harris went as a soldier." Finn when on to explain that in the time since Xander had mentioned bits and pieces of his experience came back to him randomly.
"What branch of the service Son" Claxton asked Xander.
"Sir, Army Rangers, Sir"
"Based on what?"
Sir, My Spanish was mediocre at best before Halloween. Afterward it was much better then could be achieved with study alone. Additionally my familiarity with the additional forces pursuing you; I have no personal experience with Colombian Revolutionaries but I feel like I’ve dealt with them before."
"Whoa Colombian...you mean FARC what the hell are they doing in the South China Sea." One of the Marines named Sanchez asked.
"They are in pursuit of The Bloodhound. However the enemy of your enemy is not your friend."
"What are you talking about? What Bloodhound."
"You mean you honestly don’t know; even after all this time you don't know." Xander took a breath, "You are being pursued by one of the most lethal terrorist and assassins to come out of the ranks of the FARC."
"...And how do you know this?"
"Because up until ten minutes ago when she tried to kill me and the kid I was helping her do it. We've been tracking you since the hotel. This trap in the warehouse was her idea. She wants a nice enclosed killing ground. You'll have nowhere to run to and the Vampires will take care of any stragglers."
"I knew it I've felt them." Maria replied with dawning realization.
"Your Slayers have been sensing them. They are using this area as a communal resting place. Rosarita wants the Slayers so overwhelmed that they won't sense when she gets close to you. Obviously it worked thus far."
"What the hell?" Reily asked, "You mean you’re the one hunting our guys what were you thinking?"
"She started hunting your people on her own my only thought was the two Slayers you decided to use as cannon fodder."
"Excuse me? We rescued those girls and you think that makes it ok to hunt us down?"
"You blew up an old man Reily; an old man who never did a danm thing to you. If that was some kind of noble act you’re gonna have to help me out because I’m not seeing it."
"You have no idea what Intel we had on Lovelace. You have no idea what we heard about him."
"Your right I don't but since am infamously dangerous terrorist retired from the business to be his house maid I’d say he was maybe one hell of a nice guy don't you?"
"I'd say anybody capable of giving shelter to someone like that is pretty sketchy."
"Don’t say that. You don't know my father you have no right to judge him.” Garcia was awake and holding a very large gun. Reilly looked down at his hip and cursed during his fight with Xander his service gun had come lose and obviously Garcia had picked it up the gun looked huge in his hands and he was pointing it at Claxton. "It was you, you killed my father you destroyed my family. Roberta was ok until you people came along we would have been happy forever if not for you and your filthy war."
"Son put that down." Claxton said softly
"Why? I used to think talking and peace were the solutions for everything but you people. You took away everything I care about in a second with something like this. Why should I be the only one whose hands are clean?"
Xander looked at the young boy. "Garcia you don't want to do this. You don't want this on your heart and in your mind."
"What about you. You killed that NSA Man; you’re fine."
"What NSA Man?"
"Dinkins and Roberta were both following Xander's trail but Dinkins found him first and later Dinkins turned up dead."
Dinkins found me alright. I was looking for the girls I was there the day of Lovelace’s assassination I saw one of your Slayers leaving the area and so did Roberta. I started asking questions and following clues. Dinkins caught up with me and he thought I was the one tracking and killing all the ops personnel involved in the killing of Lovelace but that was Roberta wasn’t it?"
Garcia nodded, shame anger and fear chasing each other across his face. "Roberta knows how to make people tell her things. Those people told her that my father was killed by an outside unit. SOCOM, a unit called the Grey Foxes. "
Claxton and rest of the Foxes reacted with shock at the horrible realization that Garcia was the son of the man they had helped kill only days before. For Reily however Garcia's news brought an altogether different kind of terrible shock. "...You just killed Dinkins, just like that?" Reily snapped at Xander. Finn's disgust was plain in his voice.
Xander was unimpressed, "There was no JUST about it Finn. The man strapped me to a chair. He beat the hell out of me and tortured me. If it weren't for Roberta they would have found me face down in the jungle somewhere."
Garcia continued his story, "Lucentes the man you used for information could have told you that Roberta was sheltering with my father he had contacts within the Cartels, they knew."
"Dinkins definitely didn't know until he saw Roberta. Even then, he didn't recognize her at first. I'm guessing Lucentes kept that little detail about the killer maid to himself."
Why would he do that, he was ops we would have handled the assignment better had we known upfront of the danger."
"Well the Bloodhound has a pretty substantial price on her head. If I was Lucentes and I wanted to collect on that bounty I wouldn’t want to have to share my money with the Marines who actually did the dirty work especially since if they screwed up somehow there was every chance The Bloodhound would start hunting them."
"OK I get why She is hunting us but why did you get involved?"
"I was tracking Slayer Slaves and found the slush money Dinkins used to purchase the two you have now. I busted up the camp near here. During the operation one of the girls who had been turned made a play to kill me. I decided to get myself a little equalizer. Roberta found out about it and made me hand over the whole bunch of the danm things."
“It’s called Devils Root and I thought it was this really cool secret that would make you strong enough and fast enough to take down a slayer if you had to. Jokes on me though, someone has figured out a way to reprocess the stuff into a crystal powder and I’m betting it’s not so they can make it the next high price boutique item at Bed Bath and Beyond."
“You gave her this stuff?”
“A Slayer, Your Slayer, one of the ones YOU were training tried to kill me. I've sparred with enough Slayers to know that if you can’t take a Slayer down in the first few seconds of combat you're dead."
"But still giving that kind of power to this Roberta?"
Xander snapped at the man, "I had just watched the woman who saved my LIFE torture a man to death; a man who tried to kill me. Do you really think I was going to say no when she asked."
"I would have."
Xander snorted, "Really? I'm going to get a debate on moral failings from a guy who signed off on the purchase of Slaves and plans to use them to fight a war."
"I’m just following my orders." Reily growled angrily
"God knows I never get tired of hearing that excuse used to justify crap." Xander said wryly,
"It’s not an excuse Harris,” Claxton cut him off with quiet authority, “you'd understand that if you had ever put on a uniform any time other then for dress up. It’s about duty, honor and sacrifice."
Garcia, still holding tightly to the gun in his hands whispered "Roberta says that principles are false gods. That people use them to trick themselves and others."
"That hardly surprises me.” Claxton sighed dropping to his knees to be eye level with Garcia “Son do you honestly think I agree with every order I have been given. I follow those orders because I believe in my heart that the people giving them have the best interest of the country and my men at heart."
Claxton held up a hand "Weapons down people. This boy is not our enemy." Turning back to Garcia he looked directly at the boy. “Garcia you have every reason to hate me and my men we did something to you something we can never undo but we made a choice. Your father made a choice and your maid she made choices to that what being an adult is about. Making choices and living with the consequences. I won't hold it against you if you pull that trigger but a hell of a lot of people have fought like hell to make sure that you would never have to make that choice. What would they want right now?"
Garcia looked distraught but eventually lowered the weapon. Claxton took it from his numb fingers and returned it to Reily. "If it makes you feel better Garcia, you are wrong. Negotiation and diplomacy have been a hell of a lot more useful in this world then people like me. I wish there were more people who used them."
"My Father believed in such things."
Claxton shook his head sadly, "Then it's a damn shame what happened to him, a damn shame. Alright people lets get moving. Now we know why our enemy wanted us here, its time to leave."
"That might be tricky,” Finn mused thoughtfully, “If this Bloodhound is following us she'll be springing her trap soon."
Xander piped up, "We have a few more minutes. I left her with the Warehouse’s other occupants she’ll cut through them like a hot knife through soft butter but in the meantime, We'll have a few to escape."
"You left Roberta with the vampires, “Garcia protested, “How could you, she saved your life she protected you."
"...And then she tried to kill me because she’s out of control." Xander reminded him, "Lately I'm developing something of a taste for self preservation."
"She's confused, that stuff you gave her. If it weren’t for that she’d be fine."
Xander held up his hands defensively, "She was popping anti-psychos long before I ever gave her the Devils Root. Kid, I may have made things worse but things were bad long before I got involved."
"Could we debate this in a more secure location?" Claxton snapped.
Everyone agreed to table the discussion and headed out. They exited the warehouse into what was essentially a cul-de-sac with high walls and buildings hemming them in on all sides.
On a roof high above the marines the hi-powered scope of a modified Dragunov Dexter looked down on them.
"Capitan I've made contact I count a half dozen marines left out of the original squad."
Balalaika their commander nodded and drew heavily on the cigar in her lips before tossing it to the roof. Comrade Corporal, your weapon if you please." She said softly holding out her hand. The Trooper gave up his Sniper Rifle. She looked through scope while the corporal continued his report.
"Incidentally it appears that Harris the Civilian, has joined the Marines and has the boy, Lovelace, with him. No sign of The Bloodhound yet ma'am."
Balalaika nodded gravely before returning the weapon to her soldier.
Boris, her second in command, cocked his head to the side. "Harris' self destructive tendencies have not improved with time."
"Nor can we allow emotional attachments to supersede the necessities of our mission. Comrades, our enemy is near and our mission is clear. Nothing can be allowed to unbalance the fragile lives we have here, absolutely nothing."
The Marines moved away from the scant protection provided by the cul-de-sac. “Enemy contacts have entered area of engagement." the sniper reported, taking a breath as he prepared for Balalaika’s command.
"Then on my mark we unleash hell." Balalaika snapped.