Days can be hot and steaming in Roanapur, a small city state on an island in the South China Sea. The woman under the shower wasn't trying to get clean or purge her many demons however. In truth, Faith Lehane had never felt so clean in her life.
Faith had found that for her, Roanapur was a perfect fit. A place where nobody cared about her past other then her slight Bostonian accent which was what had given her the local nickname of Southie. Nobody cared about her wild and partying ways because here in Roanapur even her wildest nights would be considered at best, a quiet night. Nobody cared that she had killed and maimed to survive and occasionally to amuse herself because such things were the norm in this city where vice was virtue and questions of legality were more often then not settled with blade or bullet.
There was some irony in that she owed her new found happiness to a most unlikely source. Xander Harris had brought her here as backup on a crusade he was on to smash a Human Trafficking network that specialized in selling the services and abilities of Slayers. Women with supernatural strength and speed activated by Xander's friends when they had wanted to create an army capable of beating back an apocalypse to end all apocalypses. Where once there had been only one Slayer there was now thousands and not all of them were happy with their new abilities and not all had been lucky enough to be living ideal lives when they had been cursed or blessed with the abilities of a Slayer.
Faith had helped destroy the Slaving Operation and so enjoyed a great deal of trust and respect from those who had been imprisoned there. Xander also had their respect, but rather then hang around, he had departed shortly after the battle to continue the search for the hundred or so girls who had been sold before the camp could be discovered.
Faith finished dressing and predictably, when she got round to checking her messages there was a few she had missed while screwing around in that seductive beast of a shower. One from Rebecca "Revy Two-Hands" telling her to get her ass over to the Yellowflag.
Revy was an employee of Lagoon Couriers. Officially it was a shipping company that operated out of Roanapur aboard a PT Boat named the Black Lagoon. Unofficially, the crew of the Lagoon were mercenaries who would take any job as long as the checks cleared. Anything, Anywhere, for any price was the unofficial company motto. Xander had secured their help in crushing the slaver's camp. Help they had given because Xander was an old and valuable ally from back-in-the-day.
Faith quickly headed out the door and jogged over to the bar. It couldn't be for a friendly drink since Revy did her buddy drinking at the Rip-Off Church with the armed and dangerous nun -- Eda, Xander's on-again-off-again girlfriend. That meant it was work. Faith wondered what the problem was.
She was even more curious when she arrived at the infamously dangerous watering hole to find the building had been blown to hell and gone. Bodies lined the street and the building had several holes blasted in various parts of the place.
Faith called up the crew of the Lagoon to find that the gang had moved to a downtown hotel. Faith headed over there to find the entire crew gathered in a particularly nice suite. The whole gang was there including their Captain -- Dutch, technical wizard -- Benny, and office manager and occasional moral compass of the group, Rock -- sitting comfortably. Revy was not sitting, she was pacing restlessly. Faith noticed that the infamous gun-wielding enforcer of the group was not smoking her ever-present American Spirit cigarettes and The Slayer ruefully suspected her agitated state might be related to their absence.
Sitting with the Lagoon crew was one of the city's several Syndicate bosses who collectively controlled the flow of crime and corruption. Chang was the Chinese Triad boss and, as was his custom, was in his traditional shades and trench coat combo looking like someone who had seen too many John Woo flicks or that he had stepped straight out of one.
Sitting with Rock were two kids. At least the maid looked young. the teenager with her was obviously young but carried himself like a adult in every sense of the word. The maid introduced herself as Fabiola Iglasias maid in attendance for Garcia Lovelace. Faith blinked, then looked at Rock.
"Is she serious?"
Rock sighed and nodded . "You'll get used to it."
"What the hell happened to the Yellowflag? Its like Beirut except not as peaceful. Did Revy have a party and not invite me?"
"The mini-maid happened." Revy snapped as she pointed at the petite maid, "Turns out she as armed and dangerous as Glasses Bitch."
Faith looked incredulously at the small buxom girl who stood about a foot shorter then Faith.
The young woman had the good grace to look embarrassed as she protested "I did not ask for the filthy ruffians who frequent that pest-hole to accost me and I was certainly not the one who invited the Colombian cartel to join in the conflict. I would also prefer that you not refer to Head Housemaid Roberta as -- That Glasses Bitch, it is most disrespectful."
"Hey, Southie," Revy snapped, ignoring the young girl, "We're kind of on the clock here so pay attention serious shit is going down and it looks like Dumb-ass Number Two stepped right into it." Since Rock was standing right next to Revy, her "Dumb-ass" was no doubt directed at Xander who she liked, but held in some slight contempt owing to his infamous tendency toward rushing in were Gods might fear to tread.
"Ah, you miss him, I'll have to let him know next time we talk."
"Well give him a message for me," Revy growled in response flipping her the finger, "And here's one for you too ya skanky bitch." she snapped off another finger at Faith .
"Actually we really would appreciate knowing where Xander is, if you know."Rock asked
"Xander is on the hunt last I heard, He was following a lead to New York."
"What kind of lead," Dutch asked inquiringly
"According to the Slaver's files, two girls were purchased and found their way to New York. Xander figured they'd be easy enough to find so he took off. A day or so later, he e-mails me and tells me the girls aren't in New York but that he knows where they might have ended up. He asked me to keep it on the down-low."
The fair haired Lovelace radiated his discomfort but asked quietly, "And this Xander, he was following these girls. Why?"
"That's who Xander is, ever since he found out about this case he's had this weird thing about solving it and doing the lions share of the leg work on his own."
"And what becomes of these Girls after they are found and --rescued." The mini-Maid asked
"That depends, I'll assume you know what Slayers are kid, if they want to join up with us so much the better. We train them and we get them helping us fighting the good fight. If the girls want to be left alone. We offer to help train them anyway so that they can have a sort of normal life."
"And you will forgive this next question but you are American. Wouldn't you have abundant resources and help if you had the aid of the American Government."
"Yeah we would but they would also want to use the girls and we are trying to stop that. You have to understand, for centuries there was only one Slayer and she was used up by the Council of Watchers until she died and the next one was called. Xander is one of a bunch of people trying to reverse hundreds of years of bad road and sometimes things don't go smoothly. What's this about anyway?"
Dutch ignored her and turned to Garcia,"You see Garcia -- she had no idea what we were going to ask and no time to come up with a cover story I'm telling you Xander Harris is many things but an assassin isn't one of them."
Faith gave a harsh bark of laughter, "Xander, an assassin? You have to be kidding me." The tomb like silence in the room confirmed that the subject was indeed quite serious.
Dutch started explaining for Faith's benefit, "Garcia's father threw his lot in with left wingers and there was a bombing. Daddy Lovelace died. On the day it happened Roberta, the family maid, was assaulted by a woman who was both stronger and faster then her and Roberta is about as strong and fast as a human being can be on their own, trust me on this."
Faith could see where this was going, "That doesn't mean she was a Slayer there are a lot of reasons for someone to have power."
Garcia explained, "During their battle the woman was attacked from behind by a man who spoke to her. She called him by name and claimed they knew each other. He apparently also knew how to subdue her, something Roberta admitted she was failing to do owing the the strength and speed of her opponent. Eventually she fled and this Xander departed as well, I don't know if it was in pursuit or if they were in league and the operation did not go as planned, but the results were the same. My Father was gone and this man was in the area."
Faith was starting to lose her temper,"So what, I'm sure there were a lot of people there. Why are you so hot to hang this frame on Xander's head."
Garcia held up his hands to forestall Faith's anger. "I have spoken with Mr. Rock and he vouches for Mr. Harris. I trust Mr Okajima, so if he says your friend is noble then I wish to believe him. Roberta on the other hand, is an entirely different matter."
Faith sneered "What, your maid gets beaten up in the street Xander helps out and instead of thanking him you want to call him a murderer."
"Pull it back a notch Southie before you go off you might want to get on the same page as the rest of us. Hey Young Master, does that Laptop you're carting around have net access?" Garcia nodded. Revy tapped away at the keys for a second then pointed at the screen. "Check it out Southie."
Revy had googled someone or something called the Bloodhound of Florencia. there were images and news stories that tracked hundreds of terrorist acts across the globe. "Roberta ain't just some feather weight in a funny outfit, she used to be one bad ass motherfucker. When Dutch tells you that she was attacked by someone superhuman we aren't fucking with you. I think you'd have to be a Slayer to take this bitch down and trust me, I would know."
Faith looked at story after story and image after image before turning to the young Lovelace with an amazed look on her face. "Are you saying the woman who can do this lives with you as a maid?" She asked incredulously, "Have you any idea how completely fucked up that is?" Garcia winced as if Faith's words had hurt him.
Rock spoke up to get the conversation back on track. "According to Garcia the government blamed Right wing extremists for the bombing which made sense and tied everything up in a neat package. Roberta didn't buy it and started her own investigation. Using a photograph and some anecdotal evidence she tracked down several of the men responsible and ...well lets just say that they were persuaded to talk about what they knew."
Revy sneered at him, "Lets call it what it was, Glasses Bitch worked them over but good "
"You mean this Roberta beat the information out of these guys?" Faith asked
Revy laughed cruelly "If by beat-up you mean ruthlessly torture and kill, then yeah she beat them up."
Benny sighed, "You're starting to see why we are concerned about Xander's whereabouts and involvement."
"OK fine I see being a little suspicious, but him being on the same street seems more coincidental then anything else." Faith supplied defensively
Garcia slid a photo across the table for Faith to look at. The picture was of several men sitting around a table most were Spanish but Faith could see at least one was American and they all had suspicious looking bulges in their jackets.
"The men in this photo were apparently involved in one way or another." Garcia explained, "One of the men was a Jose Lucentes. Your friend spent the week before my father died asking after this man and showing his picture."
"I'm guessing this is about to get very bad."
"They found the dude in the river with his legs hacked up real bad." Revy supplied, "I'm betting he told her everything she wanted to know before the end."
Jose tried to claw his way out of the water. the pain in his legs was excruciating but every time he seemed to be making progress Roberta would slap his hands with the flat of the blade on the machete she gripped in her fist.
"I swear I told you everything I know." He screamed
"You assured me that you had nothing to tell me before we began our conversation. You will forgive me but I am not entirely convinced of your truthfulness." The Maid said with cold politeness.
"You're going to kill me anyway, You twisted Bitch. Just get on with it."
Roberta smiled indulgently, "There are many ways to die Major. Some are considerably more painful then what you are feeling right now. If you don't want to find out just how much more painful, my suggestion to you is that you answer my questions. Now, you are an intelligence officer, a strange gringo arrives in the city and begins showing your picture around town and you're going to tell me that you didn't dig up every piece of information available on him within a day."
Lucentes nodded desperately, "He's a Watcher. They are some kind of devil hunting group."
Roberta knelt, jabbing the blade of the machete into Jose's leg as she did so causing the man to cry out. "Tell me everything you learned about this man and those he represents "
"What else?" Faith asked nervously as she looked at the police photos taken of Lucentes postmortem.
"Roberta before she disappeared was asking about magic shops in the area. There was one such shop across the plaza from where my father died and your friend was there that day."
"Please tell me that this shop keeper had the good sense to tell Roberta everything before it got bad."
The tingle of the bell at the door announced that the old woman had a final customer. she looked up and smiled at the maid in front of her. No doubt the woman was looking to buy a love potion to make her master fall madly in love with her. She screwed on a shopkeeper smile. "You are most fortunate I was about to close my dear what can we get for you this evening?"
"I was hoping to find someone who was recently here. He purchased several items. You might recall the person as it was the day Diego Lovelace was killed"
"A sorrowful tragedy to be sure senorita but Unfortunately I can't help you. I was at the back of the shop when the blast happened I saw nothing that would be helpful."
"Indeed and the stranger? What of him what did he purchase?"
"To be honest I can not recall." The woman replied evasively
The maid reached into a pocket and pulled a crumpled receipt from its depths flattening it out The Maid laid the paper on the counter between them."Perhaps this will aid your powers of recall. according to this he paid in American dollars I imagine not many buyers in the course of a day can afford to drop two hundred American for -- according to this, herbs."
"Ah that one, I'm ashamed to admit Senorita but I marked up the items I sold him they are not worth that much. he thought he was buying Spanish fly you know how men are. They would buy chicken crap and think it a good deal if they thought it would improve their ...abilities."
The Maid looked at her, really looked at her and then turned and marched to the door. Once there she turned the bolt causing the door to lock. When she turned back, there was a cold look in her blue eyes. "I have a great experience in asking questions Senorita I can tell when someone is being honest. It comes in handy."
The old woman was nervous now. She started moving away from the counter but The Maid moved quickly, catching hold of the shopkeeper's wrist and slamming her hand down on the counter, spreading the fingers wide on its surface.
"I know this Xander was in your shop the day Master Diego was killed I know he bought something of value from you and now I know you may have seen him leave. Perhaps he even told you what he was doing here in Caracas and who he was looking for." The Maid reached out and picked up a heavy rock , a geode, red crystals shimmering across its surface with sinister intent. "You will share this information with me Senorita. I urge you to recall that information for me. I assure you Senorita it would be to your benefit if you did not disappoint me." The Maid then brought the Geode crashing down on the Shopkeeper's hand with a bone shattering crunch.
"She survived," Garcia reported, "Although she had two fingers and a thumb broken."
Faith who had some experience with interrogation mused thoughtfully, "I can see losing one finger or a thumb but why hold out. What was she protecting?"
"According to her she was asked about your friend by someone else. A larger man. The description she gave matched one of the men sitting next to Lucentes in the picture I showed you. She was reluctant to disclose that she had sold your friend's whereabouts to this man for a large sum of cash."
"Why do I get the impression it was cash and the threat of violence." Faith snapped, "Did this guy she sold Xander to, ever find him?"
"Witness reports say that the man showed up at your friend's hotel and that both he and your friend disappeared shortly afterward. Your friend never checked out though his things were packed and gone."
"That doesn't sound good. He must of taken Xander somewhere for a little question and answer session."
"If he did," Garcia answered, "It was before he was found by persons unknown that dealt harshly with him. his body was found in a burned out house outside the city."
"What kind of sick bastard are you?" The Soldier punched Xander as he was tied to a chair. "You must be really stupid if you thought you could get away with killing Lucentes."
"I didn't kill anyone. I was looking for information and Lucentes was a lead."
"You must think I'm an idiot. You were showing the man's picture around and then he turns up dead. It's like you were asking to be found. Well I got you now and you are going to tell me who you really work for."
"Well you better make it quick asshole -- You're going to have company soon. If you found me then it means that whoever really killed Lucentes can track me to my hotel and it won't take them long to find out where you went after you kidnapped me."
"What are the chances of that. This place is so out of the way no one will find you . which is good, you can scream as much as you want and no one will hear."
"That will be very useful. thank you" Said a new voice and Xander looked up to see The Maid from the marketplace standing in the doorway.
The soldier growled and rushed her. She caught his first blow in her fist, then punched him hard in the chest sending him to his knees. Xander could see she was clutching a set of Handcuffs in each hand and was with these that she was striking the man each time she punched him. She punched him a lot. When he finally collapsed, she dragged him over to the corner and used the cuffs to tie him to an old metal Can in the corner of the room.
Once she was done, she rose and walked over to the tied up Scooby while looking at Xander with cold blue eyes.
"I guess that settles the question as to if you are on their side or not." The Maid said thoughtfully, "Still the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend."
"So who is this guy?" Faith asked tiredly.
"His name is Dinkins and he is...was ... an active duty American Soldier in the employ of the NSA "
Faith shook her head vigorously, "No, this makes no sense Xander was looking for slaves and possible buyers how the hell would he get involved with a NSA Black Op."
Benny piped up from the corner. "Oldest trick in the investigators handbook is follow the money trail. You would need big funds if you were going to buy a slave, ship her across the world and keep it quiet."
Chang nodded in agreement, "Ask the right questions in the right way and you would be surprised what someone will tell you."
"Well Roberta is no slouch in the Question and Answer department." Revy cackled, "I'm betting Xander got a real crash course from the Maid.'
Xander looked at the passed out Dinkins. He preferred him this way, the man's screams had been kind of unnerving.
"Are you going to wake him up or must I?" The Maid asked coldly
"Why the hell would I want him awake?"
"The Slayer, Dinkins knows what they are and how to control them and perhaps how to kill them. I want to know what he knows and he will tell me."
"Wait a damn minute, those girls, you have no idea what their lives were like. What they suffered."
"What, are you going to tell me?" The Maid hissed "That they were abused, beaten that they were victims of circumstance. All those things were true for me and I still knew that I was killing, maiming. The gutter mud on your boots is not an excuse; not for me and not for them."
"How is torturing him going to change anything."
"Listen to yourself, if I had come later or not at all it would be you strapped to the metal can with hot coals on your privates. Have you ever smelt your own flesh burning Senor Harris? He wanted to do that to you so that he could protect his dirty little secrets. Ask yourself this, What do you think this man and his people would do to you if they had the chance. What do you think they will do to your People, the ones you claim are innocent and not a threat to anyone. The people that you know and love. What would someone like this do if he had the chance to hurt them?"
Xander looked at the man in front of him and thought of Buffy and Faith and Dawn and the rest..
"As I said Senor Harris I will ask the questions there is no need for you to get your hands dirty. "
"I thought you guys were all about the car battery and the jumper cables." Xander sighed weakly.
"If you'd like to watch him I can pull the battery from the truck in the garage."
"I'll get the battery out of the truck ... and there's some questions I'd like to ask him if you don't mind."
"If there is a wash tub in the Garage could you bring it in here. I shall also need some rubber gloves, road salt, a measuring cup and some sponges."
After that the trail gets murky the only thing my contacts could determine was that a man and woman booked passage and headed for Roanapur. That is why Fabiola and I are here. Roberta has returned to this city and it appears for whatever reason your friend accompanied her. How willing a traveling companion, is hard to say."
"Why would Xander hook up with Glasses Bitch?" Revy muttered,
"It makes sense from Xander's point of view." Rock mused thoughtfully,"Roberta is clearly on a vengeance mission, taking out every one she thinks was involved with Diego's murder. That presumably includes the Slayer she fought the day Lovelace died."
Dutch agreed "If he sticks with her the chances are high he will encounter that Slayer again."
"But Xander is all about saving Slayers, not killing them." Faith reminded them.
"He is saving Slayers." Rock explained "In this case, you for one, and the other Slayers still in Roanapur. Roberta is not likely to distinguish between friend and foe. If it slays she is going to kill it "
"How, according to The Young Master here, she barely survived her first encounter. If not for Xander she might be dead."
Garcia pulled another picture of a gruesome looking plant. "Have you ever head of something called Devil's Root?" he asked Faith.
"Can't say that I have, Why?"
"The Shopkeeper, the one Roberta ...spoke with, claims your friend bought almost the entire supply that was in the shop. She explained that ground up and boiled into a tea or thin paste it is a restorative that can accelerate healing and promote intense mental focus while increasing vitality. However it can in extreme cases be consumed raw though the shopkeeper was most clear on what happens in this case..."
Xander grimly looked at Roanapur as the ship pulled into port "Are you sure the solders came here?"
"I am very good at what I do Senor they came here I have no doubt they brought your lost lambs with them."
"I'm telling you she was just a tool. They used her."
"I want to look in her eyes and hear her tell me that. I will know if she is lying I assure you."
"I just want to make sure you remember that when ... things start hopping."
Roberta turned a cold eye on him,"Make no mistake Mr Harris I still do not trust that your Watchers were not involved with the death of Master Lovelace but I am convinced that you believe otherwise. that alone is not enough for me.I want to see for myself that this woman, this Slayer was used by the Americans then and only then will I assume your Watchers are as innocent as you claim. now give it to me." She held out her hand.
Xander was obviously reluctant, Roberta's eyes narrowed dangerously, "I know what the shop keeper gave you Senor I have the last one from her shop. You bought the rest now give them to me."
"Were you as persuasive with her as you were with the NSA guy?"
"She survived, and I would not lose sleep over her Mr. Harris, she sold your location to Dinkens for money and not even American dollars either."
Xander looked miserable as he passed her a bag. Roberta reached into the bag a pulled from it a misshapen root. She looked at it fascinated. "The ultimate equalizer," Xander explained "I learned about it from my friend -- Willow, with that, even I can stand up to a Slayer. Anyone can really, if you don't mind the crippling side effects like dementia and possible death."
"I have earned death a thousand time over for my sins and as for dementia ...well you would be surprised how such things can sometimes clarify your thoughts." While saying this, she downed a few more of the pills she had been taking like candy since Caracas . Xander was no expert but he could read a bottle and knew powerful anti-psychotics when he saw them.
Xander watched her and again prayed that he was making the right choice or failing that making a mistake that would at least keep Buffy and Faith and the rest out of Roberta's line of fire.