The Church of Violence was under siege. The main road leading to it was blocked off. The walking undead patrolled the area with a relentless single-minded drive. The zombies were clad in a motley collection of weapons and uniforms from almost every era of conflict and war that Roanapur had ever been a witness to.
The main gate leading into the church courtyard and the building itself was defended by Shenhua, Sawyer and Rotton. The mercenary trio anxiously watched as an ever-increasing group of foes gathered outside the main gates. The army seemed to be awaiting some unknown signal. What they would do when it came was unclear but their numbers were already strong enough that even the most seasoned of fighters in the Church were becoming nervous at their chances of survival.
Shenhua fingered her kukri blades while Sawyer clung to her precious chainsaw. She seemed more morose than usual. Only “The Wizard” appeared unconcerned by the events unfolding before him. Though it may not have been his intention the singular merc was projecting a level of calm that was settling the nerves of his anxious partners. If Rotton the Wizard wasn’t panicking then maybe, just maybe, the situation was not as dire as it seemed.
It was clear however that the current stalemate would last only so long. Once the bad guys were ready to move, they would march on the Church like a tide. They’d slaughter every living person inside leaving none to oppose their taking of the Old One from the depths of the Church.
One quickly discarded stratagem was to give them The Old One. The thinking was that once the Zombie army had their prize the creatures would leave. Nobody seriously considered that plan for longer then it took to remember that the army would want Garcia Lovelace as well; No one was willing to surrender the child or fancied facing the wrath of Roberta the Maid if they did so.
Hotel Moscow's troops and The Grey Foxes were trying to breach the inner chamber with the aid of the Slayer army. Garcia and Manuela were somewhere beyond the huge locked doors. Thus far, the doors had refused to be disturbed in the slightest by methods either martial or magical.
Kennedy, Willow's girlfriend, was already chaffing at the long wait for the inevitable battle they all knew was coming. The Slayer argued often and passionately for attacking in force and hoping for the best.
Fortunately, she made that argument in front of two people who had seen more combat then Kennedy could possibly imagine. Claxton wouldn't rule out a frontal assault to break the enemy lines while Balalaika favoured a more surgical strike to draw the enemy into a prepared killing ground. However both refused to even consider either idea so long as the door to the inner chamber remained closed.
With a potential devil at their back it made no sense to either of the veteran commanders to make things worse for themselves by starting a war along their only path of retreat should the Old One prove to be the more dangerous of the dire threats facing them. Since the army of the dead, seemed content to fortify themselves, the best plan seemed to be to bunker down and hope that Xander brought Buffy and Roberta back before the bad guys had dug in too deeply. What no one was asking, loudly anyway, was, what could two people, even warriors like Buffy and Roberta, possibly do to aid them?
Faith was helping the effort upstairs to prepare the church to repel invaders. This involved moving the large church pews to places closer to the door. The slim hope was that they might slow the army should the undead tide come rolling unstoppably toward them.
When Faith finally tired of shoving large heavy things around the church, she insisted on sitting in one of the pews she was supposed to be moving. Eda took the hint and slumped next to her smoking.
Willow was shocked with the Slayer stole one of the Nun’s smokes and joined her in filling the air with carcinogenic vapour. "I didn't know you smoked." Willow commented to Faith.
"I didn't know you were a busy body. I guess we are all learning things today." Faith sniped. Elda cackled approvingly while clapping the Slayer’s hand with a high-five.
"By the way Sabrina," Eda addressing Willow with sarcastic mirth, "I thought you had some wicked mojo why don't you just wiggle your nose at them or something?"
Willow barely hid her annoyance while ticking reasons off on her fingers, ""Number one, I am way hotter than Melissa Joan Hart. Number two it was Elizabeth Montgomery on Bewitched who wiggled her nose and I’d rather you didn't get me started on all the issues a true practitioner should have with both those TV shows. Number three, my batteries are running low and rather than take the time to meditate and get them back to speed, I've got to prepare to repel an invasion hatched by guys with enough power to raise an army of undead a few hundred strong and growing."
"Great," Eda whined. "At this rate we might be dead before Revy and Xander get back here."
“I guess Revy's going to get the last laugh then." Faith sighed, "I mean assuming she's still hankering for a hunk-a-burning Harris."
"She's got her sights set on Rock,” Eda sighed, “but even if she wasn't; Xander and Her ...it wouldn't work. Trust me on this."
"Speaking of which," Willow asked Eda, "Wouldn’t you be the Nun everyone said hooked up with Xander when he came down here. You guys apparently made quite the impression on all the girls who came back from Roanapur the first time. "
Eda sighed, "Will this be an Amazon moment where you'll warn me not to mess with Xander's head." she muttered. “Cause if so, you can stow that noise.”
Willow waved her off, "Relax I’m nowhere near butch enough for that kind of thing. Besides, Xander seems happy and I guess I have you to thank for that."
Thank me, what the hell for? Eda squawked. She had clearly not been expecting this.
"Xander lost someone he was close to. She was a Slayer and while I’m not one hundred percent sure but I think he started this whole anti-slaving thing right after Renee died."
Faith noticed that Willow was not her usual babbling self. Then her mind processed what the Witch had just said. "Wait a damn minute,” Faith asked, “Xander was walking wounded, When and how did this happen?"
In as few worlds as possible, Willow recounted Xander's all-too-brief affair with Renee, a young Slayer. Her heroic and sudden death had affected all of the Watchers and Slayers but Xander had taken her tragic demise even more personally, blaming himself for allowing the dangerous life he had chosen for himself to affect someone else close to him.
While she would never admit it, Eda had expected something like this. It gave method to the mad passion that Xander and she shared thus far. While she was in as much mortal danger as anyone else in this moral sinkhole called Roanapur, it was a kind of danger that Xander considered to be mundane at best. Killers and psychos tended to bother you a lot less once you had looked the devil in his eyes.
"So...I'm rebound girl," Eda said out loud to the Witch, ”I guess it helped that he decided to avoid setting his sights on a Superhero this time around."
“Take it however you want,” Willow sighed dismissively, “If you want to believe Buffy and me are jealous bitches then fine. The truth is I am jealous of you. You guys know a whole side of Xander that he kept secret from the rest of us.”
“For a dammed good reason as far as I can see,” Eda snapped as she gestured to indicate the whole room, bitter cynicism evident in her voice, “Take a good look around this city. This isn’t a nice place Sabrina; Yolanda says it’s that thing in the basement; but I don’t buy that, not entirely. Roanapur, it gets inside and it changes you into what IT needs YOU to be. Either that or it takes that tiny little thing you keep locked away in your heart of hearts and uses it to twist you up so bad, you eventually don’t even recognize how fucked your dreams and hopes have become. If Xander didn’t tell you about this place; he was doing you guys a favour.”
"Is it that bad?" Faith asked her.
"No, it's worse." Eda snapped, "This place gets to everyone eventually. Xander, Rock hell, even I don’t even remember up from down anymore. And look at those Slayers he left out on that damn Island. A bunch of psycho bitches that have been royally screwed around by life. And the only person, the ONLY person who ever gave a shit about them is Xander. Right about now they will kill or fuck at that boy’s whim and before you ask, yeah that scares the shit out of me."
"Xander is not like that." Willow replied defensively, "He does anything he can to help Slayers when we find them not take advantage of them."
Eda shook her head, "Willow I have seen what having the power to change the world does to some men. That kind of power changes people. You want to know why I like Xander. It’s not just because he's a nice guy though he is. It's because somewhere along the way he accepted that he has a dark side. That he doesn't just have to be a nice guy, he can choose to be."
"There's a difference?" Faith asked snidely.
"Oh huge, some people are good because they have no choice, they're too lazy or stupid to realize they even have an option B. Then there are the pussies too scared of God and the Law to cut loose. Those are the guys who get married and have two point five kids and then one day you find out they have a trailer in the woods with a bunch of body parts stored alphabetically."
"So what kind of person is Xander?" Willow asked tightly
"Xander is a survivor. Trust me Sabrina in Roanapur that's all that matters."
Gunfire interrupted the ladies and all three women bolted for the main doors of the church. The mercenary trio gave ground as Willow, Faith and Eda approached.
"They taking their time getting inside," Shenhua reported, "they also not letting anyone else get inside. Gun them down first."
As if to prove her point; several of the zombies raked a small crowd of residents with gunfire, those not smart enough to back away; died.
A woman broke from the crowd and ran; dodging weapons fire, toward the church. One of the gun toting creatures began tracking her. Bullets kicked up dirt and earth as she fled desperately across open ground while death licked hotly at her heels.
Willow stepped out from the shelter of the church and swept her hands out while murmuring ancient words. The ground seethed behind the woman and a solid wall pulled itself from the earth; the barrier’s mass now absorbing the shots that surely would have claimed the woman’s life.
Faith marched toward the army with her sword held high. Willow snapped her fingers bringing a burning flame to life. She reached out with her hand trailing it across the blade of the sword as it passed. Suddenly the blade seemed to catch fire, burning with a fierce heat that Faith turned against the small squad of zombies. As she slashed into them, their bodies would burst into flame causing some to scream and beg for mercy.
Willow however ignored Faith fiery assaults in favour of her own brand of magical mayhem. Her eyes burned with dark anger as she reached into the sky with clutching fingers. Thunder began echoing across the rapidly darkening sky. Lightning, seemingly dragged by the young witch from the heavens, slammed down to assault the forces arrayed before her.
The mercenary trio watched with slack jawed amazement until Eda snapped at them, "Well don't just stand there with your mouths open." she snapped, "Help her"
Rotton recovered first from the shock of witnessing Willow's display of power. He unleashed deadly accurate shots, firing into the crowd of zombies with his C96 Musers. While the undead could not be harmed by his conventional small-arms fire, they could be knocked to the ground and when they were they found Sawyer waiting to hack and saw at anything that would keep them writhing on the ground.
One broke from the crowd and tried to grab at a fleeing young girl. Faith stepped out and kicked him in the head before slashing at him savagely. His body danced a grotesque ballet as he screamed for someone to put him out.
The rest of the survivors ran as quickly as they were able to door and were dragged inside by Shenhua.
Eda grabbed the last person though the door. "Did you see two women fighting in the street or Maybe Revy Two-Hands searching for them with a man, Xander Harris?"
The old man nodded, "I saw the Women fighting near the Ramsap Inn. The whole block was on fire. I've never seen anything like it before. Are you sure that was just two girls who did all that?"
Willow said tiredly as she came back inside, “I like to see Samantha Stevens try that." The people she had rescued gave her a respectable amount of space. Eda told the witch of what they had found out, Willow nodded at the news of Buffy and Roberta’s knock down drag-out battle royal. “That’s my girl, give her a cause and a city block to work with and watch the magic happen. I’ll warn you now your City might be a little banged up before this is over.”
Eda snorted, “As long as there still is a city when this is over. As much as I may hate this place, I’d rather you didn’t turn this place into a pit in the middle of the South China Sea.”
"Witch does good work.” Shenhua smiled clapping Willow companionably on the back, “I was starting to think bad ass reputation all talk “
"What bad ass Rep?" Willow asked,
"Southie say you not a bad hand at killing." Shenhua replied, her ruby lips separating into a feral grin.
Willow gave Faith a horrified look as the implications of Shenhua’s words dawned on the young Witch.
Faith shrugged her shoulders, "It came up in conversation. I did a little bragging." she explained.
"Flaying seems … a tad flashy," Sawyer commented, "but you were...upset at the time…so I make allowances for … emotionalism."
"I didn't do it to get a rep." Willow snapped, at the Cleaner.
"You can relax mademoiselle," Rotton soothed, "You're in the one place and among the only people who will not judge you harshly." The silver-tongued mercenary said urbanely.
"Somebody hurts you ...you hurt them back." Sawyer said grimly. She fingered her grotesque throat wound.
"Oldest rule in Roanapur is thou shall not fuck with someone who can fuck with you." Eda quipped.
"I would punish anyone who dared to harm those I have come to care for." Rotton vowed grimly
Shenhua smiled evilly. “I like taking time, work slow and careful. Knives are perfect in such situations."
"Except that someone could bleed out on you." Faith pointed out.
"Not with a good blowtorch on hand," Sawyer responded, "you cauterize the wounds… and you don't lose the subject... a skilled professional can keep a subject going…for days."
Willow was gapping at them all. She thought about defending herself, she thought about raging about the days and nights she had stayed wake regretting her actions. Except that she could feel the small kernel of darkness that rose up in joy at their praise. That wanted to tell them how much she had enjoyed killing the man who had taken her first and dearest girlfriend away from her with a savage act of cruelty. How much she sometimes wished she kill Warren Meers again and again just for fun.
Suddenly a canister of teargas crashed through the glass of the window. Faith’s Slayer-enhanced speed allowed her to kick the offending canister into her hands and chuck it back outside. "I think our guests just declared game on." She snapped, "Looks like Revy and Xander are going to be late to this party.”
Willow looked at the army moving toward the main gates. "Buffy likes being fashionable late. We just have to keep them entertained until she and the rest get here."
"I'll get Fry-Face up here." Eda snarled, "Faith, You think you and the Trio can hold the gate 'till the Foxes and Hotel Moscow are ready to rock."
"I'm up for it if they are." Faith said looking at Rotton who nodded.
”What Witch doing while we fighting?" Shenhua asked
“Witch is gong downstairs." Willow snapped "I'm going to crack that room open if I got to rip this building apart in the process."
"She is kidding, right?" Eda asked Faith nervously, "Yolanda will have my ass if this place is ripped up anymore then it has to be."
"Depends on if we got Nice Willow or Evil Willow,” Faith answered, “The thing is, if it’s Evil Willow, our chances for survival just went up a whole hell of a lot. We’d just better pray that Xander gets back soon. When she's like this she’s as dangerous as any Old One. So far he's the only one that’s ever managed to talk her down."
Garcia was not scared and that surprised him. The woman he was with was obviously agitated and frankly with everything he had seen this day, confronting a God was still going to be the highlight of his day, but he somehow found when he looked inside himself an absence of fear.
Maria had subdued the gun toting nuns including the old woman who she had knocked out when taking the antique key she had used to gain access to this chamber. Now she stood looking at the altar. In front of her, a dried out corpse was placed in a place of reverence.
“We came all this way for a dead man?" Garcia asked
"The Corrupted One is asexual." Maria explained, "It doesn't have a gender in the conventional sense of the word."
Garcia peered at the corpse’s still recognizable extremities, "Well I hate to break it to you but that looks a lot like a man to me."
Maria looked at him balefully, "Having a terrorist to watch over you has made you very brave." She sighed,
"My father told me never to let fear or intimidation control you."
"Your father WAS a wise man; of course as you've seen that the wise and foolish die just the same." Maria snatched Garcia’s hand and applied a blade to his hand cutting across the boy’s flesh with a deft stroke. She then forced his hand to touch one end of the altar. Once this was done she began tying his hands to the altar to keep him pinned there.
"How do you even know this will work?" Garcia snapped as he struggled to free himself. "How did you even know this was here?"
"The Lawyers were helpful but I would have known about this even without them. My visions connect me to the history of the Slayer Line; a very long history. Anything that one of my sisters has seen, I can see. The power has caused me ...a lot of pain since I was called but it has its uses."
“So a Slayer was here in Roanapur."
“It was not called Roanapur yet but yes one of my fellow Slayers came to this place and found the Corrupted here.”
“What else did you see?” Garcia asked distractedly while still struggling in his bonds.
"I saw your maid beaten and humbled by a Slayer, The one she was originally supposed to meet the day your Father died. She did not know how strong we were or how we could be killed and originally her grief and humiliation drove her to hunt us like animals across the globe. She killed many before she was finally stopped. Originally she died in a far off country, killed by Buffy Summers during a battle to the death."
"Roberta is dead?" Garcia was panicked
"As I said that was the original history. Things are changing, like placing your hand in a pool of water changes the nature of the reflection you see; interfering in destined events is the same way. First it was me and not Maria who encountered your Maid. Originally Xander Harris was not there that first time. I think because Lucentes bought two Slayers and not one, his money trail became more noticeable."
Finally ready, Maria slashed at her own hand and placed her bleeding palm on the altar exactly opposite of Garcia.
"A gift of blood, both pure and defiled, calls you. Come forward and be unto us, a presence." Manuela said loudly,
Garcia wasn't sure what he was expecting or if he even was expecting anything but the sound of the corpse breathing out a loud sigh before collapsing into dust that began to swirl around the room was definitely not it. The Cloud continued to swirl before solidifying into a tall cloaked figure.
Garcia watched amazed as the figure reached up and pulled the hood from its head and face and Garcia was able to, at last, look upon the face of Corruption made flesh.
"Mother, is that ... you?" The young boy asked.