Rock was helping Xander fortify the church. For a button down business man he had apparently learned to wield a mean hammer and nail somewhere along the way so the work was going well. He was way more useful than some including the constantly whining Roan. Balalaika got them moving by the simple means of pointing out that anyone not helping with the effort had time to discuss certain outstanding debts. Every citizen not wanting to have a heart to heart talk with Hotel Moscow's notoriously ruthless leader suddenly developed long dormant skills in carpentry and mechanics.
Xander directed his now much larger group in barricading the doors and windows and Rock was working on crafting a makeshift snipers nest when Shunsi started insistently tapped him on the shoulder. Despite Rock's best efforts thus far, she was still nervous about speaking to him without being spoken to first. Many of the ex-slaves were like that. Rock was hoping to work on the problem when the threat of their deaths was a little less of a pressing concern.
Upon gaining his attention, Shunsi pulled him away from his work. He noticed she was proudly displaying a bamboo training sword strapped to her back. She was pulling him past Buffy and Faith who were prepping the rest of The Slayers for the coming battle.
He followed Shunsi wondering what concerning her so. The youngster was pulling him toward the main door as he passed Buffy, he stopped for a moment.
"Miss Summers..." He said hesitantly, "I mean... Buffy, if Shunsi is ready to carry weapons why does she have a bokken,.. Sorry I mean a practice sword?"
"Relax Rocky; I know what a Bokken is I watch a lot of chop-socky cinema. “She waited for him to bleach a little before starting to laugh, "God you should see your face. Anyway she likes the bokken and considering she's a Slayer, even a bokken can be pretty damned effective when used with proper technique which I can tell you, she has in spades."
Shunsi grabbed both their hands chattering in Chinese excitedly. She had gained a rudimentary grasp of English but tended to slip back into Chinese when excited as it was her first language and the one she was most comfortable in. Rock promised himself he would get her more comfortable with English.
The two adults followed the young Slayer to the door. Buffy looked out and her face turned grim. Rock looked as well and saw a young woman in Army Fatigues standing in the courtyard. She had a large poleaxe set casually across her shoulders. Periodically she would take drags from a cigarette.
"Get the others." Buffy snapped "Get them now."
Rock nodded and in moments the rest of the Scoobies were standing at the door. "She looks decidedly lively for a Zombie." Xander pointed out
"I'm going to go ahead and assume that she isn't dead, at least not yet." Buffy said grimly.
Willow peered at her with suspicious eyes, "She's also not human, at least not completely. There's something weird about her aura too."
Balalaika had joined them at the door and slipped past the group. "She is obviously asking for a war council. It would be impolite to not accommodate her." the Russian said as she marched out to meet her.
Ingrid waited until the Russian was close before exhaling and tossing her cigarette. "Guten Tag Miss Russian," She said smoothly, "I was wondering if I was dealing with heathens with no respect for the classic courtesies of war."
"Very Classic, diplomatic council prior to hostilities is archaic. It's almost unheard of in this day and age." The Mob Boss raised an eyebrow in annoyance, "I am Balalaika, I command Hotel Moscow if you want to speak, I'd do it sooner rather than later." she said tightly.
"The Senior Partners want the Old One. A great deal of time, effort and energy has been wasted on this project and there is no way they are losing out now that they are on the brink of victory. Give us the Vessel or the boy if he hasn't been hallowed out to make room for the Old One yet. Do as I ask and I promise your agony will end” here she paused meaningfully, “sooner rather than later."
"You are aware that vessel you are talking about is an innocent little boy." Buffy snapped,
"Not so innocent now I'll wager. Slavery, degradation, humiliation; of all the creations of man, war is the most beautiful. However, traffic of human lives runs a close second." Ingrid's jovial tone belied the evil of her words. "Your innocent little boy is going to be part of something greater then he can possibly imagine. Besides, it will take the pressure off his well-armed caretakers to look after the boy if he has the powers of a God."
Buffy was launching into a diatribe when Balalaika hushed the girl "just how exactly did you learn that Garcia Lovelace was taken into the sanctum?"
Ingrid smiled, "I recruited some experience to augment my military force." she said while gesturing behind her. "General Sheu Yen was curiously eager to join my side, he seems to have been under the impression you mean him harm; imagine that?"
The group looked over and saw The General flanked by two soldiers. Balalaika stiffened when she recognized these men as members of her Special Forces Squad. "You would appear to have augmented your fighting force with soldiers under my command as well." She growled, her teeth gritted and her body almost vibrating in rage. "Can I assume my men have been transformed into undead slaves like the rest of the forces facing us?"
The Mob Boss's rage seemed to delight Ingrid no end, "I find the dead make for far more compliant and obedient soldiers. I assure you their ends were quicker and less painful then the ending you will earn if you do not produce the Old One."
By now Eda had joined the gathering she looked at their visitor. "Ingrid, what the hell are you doing here?" The Nun asked in shocked recognition.
"You know her?" Xander asked.
"Everyone knows Ingrid the Ice Bitch," Eda said with a grim smile, "No offense babe" she said brightly at The Woman who nodded in turn.
"None taken.” Ingrid said with equal casualness.
"Ice Bitch?" Buffy asked
"She's a nasty customer as cold as they come." Eda explained, "For the last few years her primary responsibility has been Director of Langley's Paranormal Affairs Branch. Some people are evil because they have to be. She's evil because she likes It."
"Which I guess means you aren't the world’s biggest fans of Watchers and Slayers." Buffy asked.
Ingrid laughed, "What isn't to love about you Summers, you turn a major American town into a lake then set yourself up as the head of a Terrorist army with global reach and access. If it weren't for your annoying glee club mentality, I'd offer you the opportunity to work with people who could help you reach your real potential."
"Sorry, kind of an under achiever. At least that's what it says on my High School transcripts “Buffy responded brightly.
"Didn't you burn that school to the ground?" Willow reminded her, "I'm thinking they were a little bias."
Ingrid sounded almost jovial, "The heads of a hundred world governments look at tapes of your attack on The Initiative and then satellite photos of LAKE Sunnydale and countries were lining up to give me the money and resources to fuel a thousand black operations across the globe."
“This is hardly news,” Eda asked "Ingrid what are you really doing here?"
"My bosses -- my real bosses, have located the perfect killing machine and they want it. I'm going to bring it to them. To get the weapon I need the boy under my control. My needs and the Lawyers kind of dovetail together."
"And just what is this weapon that you are so keen to take back to your masters." Roberta hissed.
"The Weapon is you Rosarita. Think of it, Slayers represent the end result of thousands of years of mystical spiritual and even genetic manipulation and all it took for you to beat one was a little power up from a naturally occurring root fragment."
"You want me?" The Maid asked mystified.
"It breaks my heart to see you wasting your skills in domestic servitude. You are no better than those useless slaves. At lest they had bondage and servitude bred into them. You, you choose this facade; the imperfect servile ...frankly dear, killing the Lovelace boy would be doing you the world's hugest favour."
Roberta looked like she was going to visibly explode but Xander laid a hand on her and cleared his throat. "Just so we know; what's option two?"
Ingrid smiled indulgently "Well not to be clichéd but I would slaughter you all."
"We've been doing a pretty good job of killing your little zombie army." Revy boasted
Ingrid smiled indulgently at her, "I'm sure those of you who aren't completely dim have noticed the lack of bodies left behind."
"We know you are reviving the dead and making them part of your army; it won’t work.” Buffy said defiantly.
"You have defeated a few puppets, cannon fodder I marched at you to keep you where I wanted you and off balance. Allow me to introduce you to the real forces at my command. Ingrid snapped her fingers and several large troops broke rank to line up. Each one was well over seven feet tall and well armed and well muscled.
"Ghouls,” Ingrid explained joyfully, “for the uneducated, vampires -- without the photo sensitivity, an undying legion. Each one can move speak and act more efficiently than a simple zombie and their regenerative abilities are far and away more enhanced."
"Those guys are big," Xander deadpanned "I mean really , really, big."
Buffy rolled her eyes "Tall zombie short zombie I'm not that worried."
"These are more than just zombies. They are the end result of decades of mystical, alchemical and scientific manipulation, creatures faster and stronger than any who have walked the earth. They are capable of enduring awesome punishment. If they are wounded, they can regenerate from even the smallest surrounding necrotic tissue. Savage brutal and almost animal-like in their cunning, but one hundred percent loyal to their commander."
"I don't get this Ingrid," Eda said mystified, "You're a desk jockey you aren't even a real field operative."
"Dear, I’ve been operating in the field a lot longer than you can imagine. I've been undercover at Langley, keeping my employer in the loop about operations that might affect his long-term plans."
"You're a mole? –working for who?" Eda asked more from instinct then because she thought the woman would respond.
"You've never heard of Millennium, suffice it to say, we have stake in the proceedings. The Lawyers wanted a cheaper method of retaining the loyalty of their troops other the standard beyond death Rider clause in their employment contract. That was here Millennium came in."
“We know they manipulated events to insure the death of Lovelace and the others." Balalaika snapped.
"The Lawyers want the Devils Root production in the world under their exclusive control. They also want the Old One’s power for themselves. Lovelace was a threat to that control. His empowering message was giving the people hope. They were actually starting to believe that their cycle of misery might end. That makes for a bad crop. Devil's Root needs misery without it; it cannot ripen into full fruit. Even when it ripens it needs time to absorb even more misery to become truly potent sometimes it takes years to make even a small amount.”
"So you killed him just like that ." Roberta asked, seething with cold fury.
Ingrid smiled with obvious glee. "Oh yes my precious, I can feel your anger, and your hatred. Come with me Rosarita. And I will make you a goddess of war and terror. One day you will look back upon the decades of misery we'll unleash on the world together and you will look on the deaths of an old man and his brat child as ...a rebirth."
Willow started noticing Ingrid's aura flaring with greater power. Her tattoos were swirling excitedly across her flesh.
Alberto spoke of his backers." Roberta continued, "He said they had granted the FARC power and given them some kind of edge I didn't believe it until now."
"Those bastards we fought in the warehouse." Revy snapped in sudden realization, "The FARC they had these little vials on them.”
“They were hunting a team that had Slayers on-board. And their number one target Miss Maid, had acquired a Watcher of storied skill and ability to assist her.” Balalaika summarized.
"Supernatural strength and speed beats demented revolutionary every time." The Ice Bitch cackled, "They knew the mortal F-A-R-C wouldn't last a minute. That was why I offered Millennium’s services and promised to provide a little backup should they require it."
You told me that you didn’t know what was going on.” Eda reminded her.
“I didn’t know where Harris was and once he hooked up with the Maid they dropped completely off the grid until the war in Roanapur started.”
"The Crystal Tears," Xander said. "You gave them the vials and didn't tell them what they were for."
“Think of it, nigh-Immortality-in-a-bottle. Not nearly as reliable as some methods you might know of but it gets the job done."
"Not nearly as effective as raw devils root either." Xander smirked as he reminded her.
Ingrid laughed jovially, "Of course it isn't as effective. But it does have the advantage of being easier to mass produce. You've no doubt seen the effects already on living subjects. They gain awesome power at the expense of their sanity. On the dead..." here she gestured to the army around them.
The Groups noticed as several of the zombies stepped forward and Xander visibly paled as he recognized Corrado the FARC soldier who'd come close to killing him earlier. "Now we finish our Match eh, Senor Harris." Corrado sneered.
"You beat him?" Faith asked.
"I kind of cheated." Xander sighed, "I accidentally dosed myself with Devil's Root and got lucky."
Ingrid smiled evilly, "I have noticed that they do fixate upon last images especially the person who killed them. She said brightly.
The General stepped forward. "Surrender the Old One --Fry face, Give us the Boy as well and I'll let you and your people continue to exist in this town once Chang is dead of course." He threatened.
"Now there is a man with confidence," Xander said brightly "Threatening one of the most dangerous women on earth and insulting her to her face. You sir are officially too stupid to live."
"I assure you Mister Harris that is condition that will not burden him long." Balalaika said with icy formality.
"Hey, hey, hey," Buffy chided, "Bad guy ranting over here; be polite."
Eda noticed what the woman had said, "OK Ingrid we know what these freaks are in this for what’s your angle. Why are YOU standing HERE?"
Willow was watching her and realized what the seething and churning of her tattoos meant. "She is feeding off empathic energies. Our fear and stress make her stronger that's why she's standing here. She wants a free meal. By telling us she's coming to kill us and watching us get worked up, she gets stronger. She’ll keep getting stronger the longer she kills and terrifies."
Ingrid smiled widely while rolling her head and audibly cracking the joints therein. "Der Major is hoping that the more enlightened among you will see the futility of opposing us and join us. He can offer you something for more rewarding. Something he is quite sure some of you including Ms Balalaika and The Bloodhound would appreciate; war unending and awesome. We want to give you a real chance to use those long dormant skills that you are so very famous for."
"War against whom?" Balalaika asked.
"Who cares?" Ingrid laughed
"Come on," Faith asked, "aren't you guys like most garden variety whack-jobs; out to conquer the world?"
"Conquest? Please; The Major wants nothing as pedestrian as ownership of this decaying heap of shit. Our plans have a single and simple goal, a war so glorious and vast that the Gods will tremble in fear of it. This is about gathering to the battlefield those whose love of war is so pure and absolute that their souls sing in rejoicing at the very idea of burning every square kilometre of this planet until every corner of creation is drenched by blood and fire."
"Are you kidding me?" Buffy snapped, "War is hell, nobody really loves war."
"Tell me, Ms Russian," Ingrid faced Balalaika, "is the young lady right. Has the fire in your heart burned down so low you've forgotten what it felt like? Tell me you haven't enjoyed our little engagement. The screams, the shouts and the stench of carcasses cooking as mayhem surround you. Is it really any fun feeding like a rat on the corruption of the weak? Don't you miss those wonderful days when you held the world by the throat making it shiver in fear and terror?"
Buffy was unsurprised that Balalaika seemed almost temped by the woman's words. "Yeah, don't know about them but I'm not handing the kid over and as for your boss he can screw himself he wants a war so bad I’ll bring him a war alright."
"I think that's the point Buffy." Xander said grimly "she and her boss don't care what side we choose. They don’t care if we win or lose. They just want us to fight. If we defend ourselves or not, defeat them or not, make no difference to them; they just want a war and we’re getting court-side seating to the fun."
"Smart boy no wonder Eda wanted you under her thumb." Ingrid sneered.
Balalaika finally gave a long sigh, "Then you will give a message to your Major," Balalaika, said slowly "If he wants a war so badly I will be more than happy to oblige him. But he isn't getting the Lovelace boy. I have promised that Boy and his retainers the protection of Hotel Moscow and no matter what else I am I am a woman of my word."
"Then it would appear we have a disagreement, and you and I know there is but one way to end disagreements between such as we."
Indeed," Balalaika snapped and drew her gun and fired in one smooth motion. Ingrid's head rocked backwards. However she did not fall and the crowd watched amazed as she faced them again, the bullet was lodged in her forehead. One of her tattoos had MOVED to intercept the bullet.
"I think I'm really going to enjoy this." Ingrid raised the poleaxe and gripped it in both hands. "Kill everyone," Ingrid commanded, "leave nothing alive to impede our progress." She swiped at Balalaika who dodged backward firing her pistol at the oncoming warrior.
Boris pulled his gun as well and firing wildly as Ingrid came steamrolling in. Suddenly however Bella was there putting herself in between Ingrid and Balalaika.
Ingrid smiled wolfishly at the girl's attempts to keep her off. "How sweet the Fry-face has a mystic pit bull but your dog needs to be house broken; allow me.”
The woman swept her hand forward grabbing at Bella. The two Russians watched as the tattoos on Ingrid's arms flowed down her fist and seemed to lash out like little snakes to attach themselves to the Bella's head. The girl began to scream and whimper.
Bella was standing in the cold. Daddy had packed her in the truck and driven her away from the farm. She was worried about her sick mother but excited to be going on a trip with her father.
"You are going on fun trip." he had said gruffly as they stood outside a club. The entire building smelled like daddy sometimes did after he'd been drinking.
The smelly man who ran the place looked at Bella. He looked at her critically pinching the skin on her cheek and then opening her mouth and looked inside. "Not bad for a farm girl she even has all her teeth, " The man commented as if the news was a pleasant surprise.
"Look could we do this I need to get back her mother... the medicine the doctors want her to take is very expensive. I'll make her understand but until then..."
The ugly man sighed, "i give you three-fifty "
Her father bent down to her "Listen to me Bella, Father is going to leave you with this nice man for a while until your mother is better and we can afford to keep you. do as he says and when things are better I swear we will come back for you."
The ugly man handed Father a wad of bills. There was happiness on her father’s face that had not been there for some time. Bella watched as her Father turned and marched to the truck and climbed in. He didn't once look back as he drove away leaving his daughter standing in the cold and driving snow.
Bella looked up at the man but it was the scary tattooed woman looking down at her. "I Love family don't you?" Ingrid hissed at her victim. She raised her fist the poleaxes blade glittering in the cold darkness. "The pain of your life is so sweet it almost seems a waste to kill you...almost." Ingrid brought the poleaxe swinging down.
Bella rolled away from the blow that had missed by only a hair. The Russian Slayer looked up and saw she had been delivered from death by the slashing intervention of Buffy who was cursing the tattooed woman.
Ingrid laughed "You're wasting your time Miss Slayer; I cannot be touched unless I want to be and I don't have to strike you to destroy you." Ingrid held her poleaxe above her head and Buffy watched as the tattoos flowed across the weapon. Ingrid waited until the weapon was almost black before bringing the blade down, slashing at the ground creating a terrifying shock wave that split the ground and threw everyone in several feet of Ingrid to the earth with the force of her strike.
The Slayer felt the earth starting to seethe and crack before tearing open. A line of devastation worked its way toward Buffy who dodged to one side while calling to her fellow fighters "Stay clear and don't let her or the tats touch you."
Revy and Eda were adding their thunderous gunfire to the support teams hail of bullets.
"Sure you can shoot straight Two Hands?" Eda teased, "That gun hand of yours seems a little shaky."
"Fuck you, ya crazy nympho," Revy snapped, "The day you can out-shoot me is the day I need to die." She was back to using her beloved Cutlasses loaded with modified ammo rounds that would make more of an impression even on their undead enemies.
Yolanda stood beside them all, Her Desert Eagle searching for foes to fire upon. "You’re Lucky Ms Faith even bothered to bring those Cutlasses to the Church with her or else I'd have to give you a rental like everyone else is using."
The Elderly nun gestured to the several citizens who were firing out the remaining doors and windows with a motley assortment of guns. Once the commitment was made to fight every man and woman in Roanapur seemed determined to fight for their home.
Revy took down a big fiend with well placed shots. "Ah thank you babies," The Gunslinger cooed to her weapons, "Momma missed you so much. She’ll never leave you behind again."
Rico and Xander came by with arms filled with wood and tools. Did I hear someone say nympho?" Xander asked.
"Better live though this sport, Eda cackled delightedly, "There is nothing this sadistic bitch loves more than a little ultra violence to get my motor racing."
"I don’t know Eda " Xander said and took her shoulders. "All this craziness has shown me that I have to appreciate the people in my life more tell them how I feel let them know how special they are to me and how much my life is better because of them."
Eda looked at Xander’s sincere face. "You what? " she was confused
"I know you can't believe it living in this place ...but I love you Eda and I want us to be happy together."
Revy grimaced in disgust at Eda confused face, "Are seriously telling me you can't tell that he's scamming you." she snapped
Eda looked at Xander and finally saw the glimmer of mischief in his eyes the glimmer that he had obviously manage to hide from her before. “You lying bitch, “ Eda said with awe “Your gaming me." Eda grabbed his head and pulled him in for a long open mouth kiss.
"I figured I owed you one." Xander replied when they came up for air. "I knew I was good but baby I totally had you "
"You did not I was just…playing along."
"Fuck that you were ready to register your china pattern .” Revy cackled
"Anybody needs a fill up?” Rico smiled rakishly shaking a box of ammo at both the ladies.
Eda searched through the box picking up and discarding several clips before finding the ones that matched the Glock in her hands. Revy just reached behind her without looking and ran her fingers across the various ammo clips before selecting two and ramming one into her guns. She gunned down two rushing creatures with the other gun in her hands before reloading it. In her mind, she was aware there was something odd about the fact she could tell by touch alone which clips were for her weapons and knew by feel of weight how loaded her guns were. Revy had never noticed before but fully loaded guns just ....felt different. Her eyes, always very accurate suddenly could scan across the chaotic battlefield. She could tell Xander was scamming Eda by the shift in his scent and the sound of his voice. The truth just sounded and smelt different.
"We got incoming at eleven o'clock." she snapped out her gun and fired taking the ghoul in the head and flipping it backward. The Slayer he had been chasing turned and beat wildly at him.
"Nice shot, ma'am" Sanchez shouted having seen the distant kill shot though the scope of rifle he was using.
Revy grunted but she had to agree with him. That shot should have been almost impossible even for someone of her skill and yet she'd made the shot from so far away without aid of a scope or even really aiming.
"This is what it is to be pack, little cub." A still small voice whispered.
Anyone else would have been freaked Revy was too busy loving the possibilities to be freaked out.