There was a disturbing quiet that descended over the city of Roanapur. Everyone felt it, the quiet before the storm. Faith was climbing the walls of her loft knowing that Xander was out there and that finding him was beyond her right at the moment. She had said an emphatic no to Garcia's request for help in bringing Roberta safely home.
"...But why?" Garcia asked,"We will need help finding Roberta."
"You're going to need a miracle kid," Faith responded, "...and that's just for starters. I'm saying no because five minutes ago you were ready to blame me and mine for the death of your father. If I help and we find nothing, you'll assume I was covering up something. If we strike pay dirt then I can look forward to fighting your enemies with someone at my back I can't trust and who I know doesn't trust me. There isn't any good reason for me to get involved and loads of good reasons to stay clear."
"What about your friend he is in harm's way." Fabiola pointed out.
Faith shook her head again, "Xander is maybe safer right where he is. If Roberta was going to kill him, wouldn't she have done it in South America? I've known Xander for almost a decade and his ability to get into and out of trouble is equaled only by his ability to survive around incredibly dangerous females. He's gotta be planning something and until I know better, I'm better off giving him room to make his move. Either way I'm out...for now."
Lagoon Company was equally split on the subject of helping the young Lovelace boy. Rock, as usual, went where his moral compass was leading him. Benny for his own reasons decided to tag along. Revy seemed pissed at Rock's latest altruistic crusade and seemed determined to sit the whole thing out, out of simple spite. Dutch was clear. Rock was free to pursue his agenda until such time as the stakes got too high, at which point he was expected to get the hell out of Dodge and keep the whole mess the hell away from Dutch's precious boat.
Faith was seriously questioning her judgment on the third day when Boss Chang called her for a lunch meeting. They sat in a small restaurant where the triad boss ordered Chinese food. When it arrived Faith was surprised to find the meal was imitation fare, the kind readily available in The States. and to her knowledge reviled by anyone actually from China.
Chang smiled at her confusion, " Let me guess, you think there isn't any place that makes decent Clam Chowder right? The thing is... Faith, if you go into most situations with an open mind, no expectations and a cast iron stomach you will discover there is a lot of really good things out there "
"I'll take your word for it. why the invite Boss I'm grateful for the rescue but..."
Chang reached behind him and handed her a long thin tube. Faith inspected the thing and saw up close it was a Katana sword stored in a featureless scabbard. she gasped as she inspected the fine blade and the craftsmanship behind it. she looked closely at the almost unnoticeable family crest on the pommel of the hilt.
Chang answered her questing gaze, "The crest of the Washimine clan. that weapon belonged to the their number one enforcer Ginji Matsuzuki. they called him among other things -- Manslayer."
"Where'd it come from or should I ask?"
"Ginji was legendary within the Yakuza. A man of incredible ability and talent yet in the end he was undone. We all eventually face something that exceeds our abilities Faith. You, me, everyone. Learn your limits and understand them as well or better then you know the limits of your enemy or you know what'll happen? Someday some youngster will be handed that blade and be told how great you USED to be."
"Slayers are hard to kill boss."
"So are Yakuza enforcers, especially the ones who can cut down bullets in flight. Yet the sword is here and Ginji is not I hope you can learn the lesson."
"May I assume that things are getting weird."
"We are way past weird. This city exists because everyone in it makes a Devil's deal. A choice to preserve the balance that makes a place like this run."
"You're concerned The Maid is disrupting the balance."
"She might survive this, she has survived worse things then the fight she is trying to pick. Hell, some of the soldiers she is pursuing might even make it through this in one piece. As for Xander however, I'm warning you now Southie this is not ending well and our mutual friend is on the wrong side. Xander being on the middle of this storm doesn't bode well for his survival."
"I know I'm going to piss you off by asking this but how bad can this wench really be. I mean OK she's vicious and hardcore but she's not exactly the most dangerous thing I've dealt with in my life."
"Faith how old are you? mid-twenties, right?, When you were deciding which flavor of paint tasted the best, Roberta was learning to kill people. When you were mastering the complexities of tying your shoelaces, Roberta was learning to kill people. She possesses and has mastered skills in every form of armed and unarmed combat that the human animal has ever devised, and she is arguably better at it then the people that invented them."
"Forgive my staggering lack of belief in that." Faith quipped sardonically "I mean OK Revy's an awesome gunslinger and Shenhua and Ms. Balalaika are pretty formidable in their own way but what you are describing ..."
"... Is the complete and unvarnished truth, Faith. it is the truth. A while back The Cartels tried to strong arm Diego Lovelace into handing over his lands and property. It was some kind of land scam thing. They kidnapped Garcia to make their point and Lagoon Company was the lucky duckies assigned to transport him here. Lovelace sent The Maid to find Garcia and she shot this town up good and hard doing it. Killed most of the Cartel membership stationed here came within a hairsbreadth of killing Rebecca and probably would have if not for Hotel Moscow."
Faith had already met the leader of The local branch of the Russian Mafia and their scary as hell leader, Balalaika, a woman whose reputation for ruthlessness was well deserved and earned. "How did the Vodka Queen manage to keep those two from killing each other?" She asked in awe.
"A little gun barrel diplomacy. Balalaika and the Maid came to -- an understanding."
Faith nodded gravely "Well I've known Xander a long time, He has survived some pretty deranged situations."
"There are all kinds of survival Southie, Some are better then others. Maybe Xander will still be breathing when this is over but he isn't going to be the same; none of us are."
Faith nodded slowly " It would take a lot to get to that one you have no idea what Sunnydale was like Boss. what it did to people to grow up in that kind of hell."
"Maybe so Kid, but so far he's partly responsible for the brutal torture and murder of one American Serviceman. He's also planning to help in the deaths of at least two dozen more. I know why he's doing it. I know for a fact he is still alive because he's doing it but do you really think he going to walk away clean from something like that?"
The coming conflict and The precarious place that Xander had found for himself in the midst of it was also on the mind of Eda. as she paced the hallways of the Church of Violence. She cursed the crusading Xander and his damn indifference to the harsh realities at play. Eda had been working her contacts trying to find out who was really behind the Lovelace killing but increasingly the answer to the question was becoming all too obvious. The killing of Lovelace was exactly what it looked like. Someone in the NSA with more balls then brains had unwisely decide to commit US resources and lives to a Black Operation. A Major Claxton, head of a commando group known as the Grey Foxes, had assisted in the elimination of Lovelace and Claxton's group was now on its way through Roanapur on a mission to arrest some demented Drug Lord. That Lovelace was dead, that his child was orphaned would be seen as collateral damage, acceptable loss in comparison to whatever had been gained by the action. Xander's potential death either at the hands of the The Maid or more likely here in Roanapur during her hunt for vengeance, would be seen as an equally regrettable but acceptable loss because hey, you can't make an omelette ... right?
Eda finally pulled out of her introspection when she felt the ringing of her cellphone. It was a restricted line. as she checked the ID of the caller she cursed as the ID came on the screen. Back at Langley, her coldly ruthless caller had responsibility for overseeing Extra-Normal Affairs, a lovely euphemism for supernatural matters possibly affecting national security. Eda wasn't the only one who'd nicknamed the woman Ice Bitch.
"Eda my dove," the voice's insincerity was thick and undisguised, "Whatever does a girl need to do to get an update from you about your fortuitous spot in the center of the storm."
"I don't answer to you, not now, not ever." Eda snapped bitterly,
"You started having to answer to me when you started romping with a prime asset. I've been trying to get Xander Harris under my thumb for over a year now and he just stumbles into your bed. Some girls have all the luck huh?"
"You should read a sit-rep once in a while. I met Harris the summer after his graduation he ended up in Roanapur and spent the Summer aboard the Black Lagoon. When he came back looking for info on a Slayer Trafficking Network we got re-acquainted."
"What was he doing in Caracas?"
"Getting involved with an illegal NSA operation I assume. I thought you were calling because someone ratted me out."
"Of course, I have half the section chiefs trying to get agents close to this Watchers Organization and suddenly their Number Two guy pops up on the grid in the middle of an NSA op. Then suddenly there's this thing with the Bloodhound."
"The NSA screwed the pooch on that. Lovelace was holding the Bloodhound's leash and when he died she went completely random.
"What's The Watcher's Council Agenda by hooking up with The Maid."
"Xander is following Two Slayers purchased from the Black Market. He stumbled across a NSA slush fund trail and followed it to Caracas."
"No wonder their sputtering. Gotta be a little humiliating having a civilian contractor get all up in their grill and get away with it. Still You do know Harris has back story with the Ops team don't you?
"I know Harris is tracking the girls, beyond that I got nothing."
Her caller sang a happy tune at her "Said the Ice Bitch to the Little Nun, you don't know what I know."
"What don't I know?"
Eda growled, "Please tell me why Xander is hanging with the Maid?"
"The NSA needed a Slayer expert to manage their newly purchased assets they brought in someone homegrown with loyalty to spare. his name is Riley Finn and he was the number two man in The Initiative. That name ring a bell or two for you girlfriend. "
Eda recalled The Government's biggest and most high profile attempt to control and study supernatural activity on the large scale. It was also their most high profile failure. "The Initiative does, Finn doesn't"
"Finn was making time with Harris' cheerleader. When Finn went domestic, Harris lost his big chance to seal the sweet deal with his cheerleader-slash-demon fighter. By the time Finn was out of the picture Harris was involved with someone else. Your boyfriend's psyche profile screams addiction to strong women and classic jealously issues and possessive behavior patterns. I'd say that he's looking for some payback while shadowing the Bloodhound"
Eda smiled, "What about the Cartels, What did our people in country say they were doing about this."
"Bogotá is sending some experts to deal with The Maid. If they know that killing The Maid will start a feud with the Watchers they either aren't aware or they don't care. Too bad really, Harris would be the perfect in with the Watchers, easily manipulated and controlled."
Eda beamed, "If push comes to shove I got another In with the Watchers. Hopefully I can persuade him to give them an invitation to the party."
"Who's Your Council contact"
"That's for me to know and you to sit and spin about."
"Don't get cute with me Little Nun," The Ice Bitch snapped, "As long as Harris is your bitch, you're going to be mine -- and I'm very demanding. Are we clear?"
"Oh crystal honey, buh-bye." Eda snapped the phone closed and turned to find Yolanda looking on in amused silence. "If he weren't so good in bed I'd serious wonder if all this drama were worth my effort."
"You and practically every woman since the dawn of time my dear. Still you and I both know as long as that boy is with you, your people will want some measure of control and that thankless task will fall to you."
"Not to mention the Watchers themselves. If his friends are even half as troublesome as he's lead me to believe, I'm going to have bad ass busy bodies in my face before this is over. Between his people and mine ...That's a few too many voyeurs for my use. Still, I don't have to deal with that for at least a day. The Maid won't wait much longer then that to start hunting the Americans."
"The help the Colombians are expecting should be here by then as well. I suspect you will be a busy little girl once that happens are you up for the challenge."
Eda shouldered her holster and straightened her nuns habit. "I got Jesus on my side how can I fail?"
"Jesus Christ had it easy compared to us all he was trying to do was change the world, you're trying to change Roanapur."
The Timetable of the coming battle was ever on the mind of another. A gun shot had disturbed the worried musing of one Xander Lavelle Harris and he was dashing down the hall to investigate the sound. The Maid and He were holed up in an out of the way hotel. She had wanted to avoid the traditional stops. All the better to reduce the chances of being discovered by accident. He burst into the room thinking that the war had started while he had been napping instead he found a disturbing tableaux. The Maid with a gun out, pointed at Harry the only other guy who could handle big ticket weapon purchases other then the Church of Violence.
"Xander what is with this freaky bitch?"
"Harry you should know better then to sneak up on an armed and dangerous person in this town."
"Who was sneaking I was just unloading the equipment. She was praying away in the corner and all of a sudden she's trying to gun me down."
Xander decided to try for a bluff."Harry you know who this is, you know what she did. If she wanted you dead, you wouldn't even have seen her coming. We are all a little tense, so how's about you unload that stuff in my room down the hall. We'll both join you uno momentaro."
Harry left cursing about crazy maids and wacky demon hunters, slamming the door as he did.
Xander waited until he was sure the man had left then turned with a jerk. "Opening fire on the guy who's providing you cut rate for a bulk weapons purchase is not a smart thing to do. that sort of thing tends to stand out in a person's memory. the last thing you want if you need this little expedition to remain a secret."
The Maid ignored him responding tersely,"His discretion will be bought along with his weapons."
"You should have let me talk to Bao. You honestly think he isn't going to tell anyone you're in town, especially if half of what I have heard is the truth."
"He is not lying. I did destroy his foul establishment the last time I was here and had he not given me what I wanted, I would have done it again."
"The wrongness of this deal gets worse every second that passes."
"Then leave, I will deal with the Americans and their Slayers, as I see fit." The Maid snapped
"Oh yeah and I'm sure that you'll let me take my little herbs with me when I go won't you. You're still out for Slayer blood. If I'm not here you'll start with the ones with the Americans and end up on Buffy's doorstep."
"I will know what role your people played in the death of Master Lovelace. If all they were are bystanders, I will want to know why they stood by and did nothing as a good man was killed. If they were involved, then by Santa Maria they will pay blood for blood."
"See that's what I don't get. What are you getting out of this? What about Lovelace's kid shouldn't you be covering his back, I mean he just lost his father. I would be all kinds of screwed up if I was him."
"I am doing this for him, because of him. He was an innocent child a perfect soul in this decaying heap of shit. Heaven's grace should shine on one such as he for all of his life instead a bunch of cowards steal his father away and so-called protectors stand idle while it happens."
"I didn't know..."
"So you keep protesting. You didn't know. Yet you were smart enough to follow a trail of money from New York To Venezuela. You were intelligent enough to deduce that Dinkens' money financed the sale of your precious Slayer girls and Lucentes brought them to the city where they were prepared for their role as assassins."
"How was I supposed to know that they intended to use the girls to kill your master. What about you, you're supposed to be some ultra-bad ass. You telling me you didn't notice a bunch of military ops guys hanging around."
"Migrant workers are a fact of life in the city as are ex-military. It was only after the fact that I began to see the chain of co-incidence that betrayed the stench of conspiracy and collusion.
"Well what about when it actually happened something must of seemed...I don't know, weird, a chill in the air something. "
"That was why your Slayers were there. I have no doubt that our enemy knew I would be watchful and provided a distraction."
"It makes a certain kind of sense. You eyeball the Slayers and concentrate on them let's the shaped blast do its work. nice, neat and tidy."
"Indeed," The Maid mused suspiciously, "A convenient conclusion to jump to don't you think."
"Relax, you said that you were there to see the explosion. I don't care how super strong you might be other-wise if you were close enough to see the bomb go off and yet you lived to tell the tale that means they shaped the charge to make sure they got maximum bang for their bolivar."
"I now know it was your American NSA that was behind the bombing I still don't know why but I'm sure one of the soldiers will tell me what I want to know."
"I might feel better about that plan if Harry wasn't sitting in my room right now with enough guns to arm a small country."
"You have a carpenter's hands. would you attempt to build a house without the best tools at your disposal."
"You aren't building a house; you're declaring war on the whole damn city."
"They declared war." The Maid snarled angrily, "I am responding and if any in Roanapur are foolish enough to get between me and my target then they have earned their fate as surely as the murderers of Master Lovelace."
"Lovely, great planning there, and what happens if The GI-Joes get killed before they can tell you what you want to know."
"Then for the sake of your friends you had best hope that one of them dies absolving the Watchers of guilt. Besides, if you really see yourself as a protector to these women you should seek to punish these cowards as much as I. they purchased stolen innocence and turned it to the task of murder."
"I'm no fan of the what the bastards did, especially if What Dinkins said about their personnel was true; but the girls have to be my priority now. If I can't save them from being used, at least i can get to them before they're so lost they can't find their way back. "
"The point you are referring to is long past Senor Harris, their involvement in Master Diego's death was the line you feared they would cross, and they have crossed it. Believe me, there shall be retribution for their part in his murder."
"Yeah? Well my experience Rosa, is that Vengeance has a nasty habit of becoming an uncontrollable fire that consumes everything till there is nothing left."
The Maid turned quickly at his words."An odd choice of phrase Senor, tell me where you heard it."
"What," Xander sighed dismissively, " I was just repeating something I heard somewhere, I can't remember where though. Why?"
"I have never told you my real name. In fact, oddly enough you have never asked my name in all the time we have been traveling and yet you know the name Rosarita."
"I doubt you would believe me, even if I could explain. Now maybe you should go and see what goodies Harry has for you. If I'm following you into hell I want to make sure I'm properly packed and ready for the trip."
"Who said you were coming along?"
"You did. Dinkins was very specific. They had two Slayers in the group and a handler. Someone experienced with Slayers. What they are what they can do and how to control them. I know what the girls look like and I know their Handler if the name Dinkins provided was real. I have to finger them or else you might either kill someone innocent or else you'll go on a general Slayer Hunt."
"So now you are suddenly unconcerned with the possibility that I am killing your fellow countrymen. You surprise me."
"Look me in the eye and tell me ...do I look like I'm lying when I say I will do what it takes to keep my friends safe. if its from the government, gods, devils or you. I will do what I have to."
"Impressive, Senor Harris, you know there is something about you. Something familiar."
The woman shook it off and departed. Xander followed trying to think about what had just happened because he was increasingly having the same feeling. Somewhere somehow he had seen this strange woman and her blue eyes before. When he closed his eyes he could almost smell the damp wet and heat of the Central American jungle assaulting his sense and a voice he almost recognized.
"Watch your step kid those revolutionary regs are no joke."
"Ah c'mon Captain let junior have his dreams."
"Fuck his dreams I'd rather he had his balls after this trip is over. You hear me Rookie keep it in your pants and stay away from the hired help especially that one. they say she's already a monster in training."
There it was again the same group of voices he had been hearing off and on. especially since this trip had started. It was impossible, where was this memory coming from. Of course he already knew, the same place all his military related thoughts and instincts ever came from. That damn Halloween years ago in Sunnydale when Xander Harris had checked out for the the night and Soldier Boy had come to play. The memories had come and gone ever since then and after he had been blinded, he assumed they were gone forever but something about this woman was triggering them again. Somehow, somewhere Soldier Boy had encountered the Maid.