Boss Chang looked out the window of his apartment overlooking the city of Roanapur. Normally the view gave him comfort, a sense of being centered. Today however, he hated the view because right in the center of his sweeping view of the cityscape, Smoke could be seen rising from the hotel district and unless he missed his guess, the sounds of battle were moving. The war he had been dreading had come at last to the Roanapur.
This was normally the time he would be conferencing with Russian Mob Boss Balalaika. They would be discussing what to do and who to do it to. The problem was Balalaika was about to become part of the problem.
Before she had been a Mafioso, Balalaika had been a military and tactical genius. She had cut her teeth in the Afghan War against the fierce warlords who controlled the deserts and mountains of that region. When the Great Russian Bear had abandoned that backward slice of hell. Balalaika had eventually turned her considerable talents to crime and eventually to ruling her branch of the Mob including her section of this city. However, the old warrior within, the fighter and killer that had survived that hell of hot sand and death remained.
Word was, she was mobilizing her troops and Chang had little doubt that the Maid and the Americans would be her target. Hopefully the frustrating bitch was only planning a little display of force. If her goal was to open another front in the war, well maybe it was time to think about a retirement plan that involved a place less likely to be a smoking hole in the ground.
The Phone in the room interrupted his musings. He prayed it was good news but Chang had long ago learned that Gods did not often answer prayers. That was why people like him existed.
"Brother Chang," came the voice on the other end, "This is The General."
Chang smiled ruefully, when it rained it poured. " General Sheu how's life on the compound."
If there was an ugly side to being a triad boss then dealing with men like Sheu Yan was it. A brutal military commander in his heyday, he had left the People's Army because even brutal and repressive regimes like China had principles. They liked having warm bodies to rule when the shooting was done and Sheu had a nasty habit of denying them even that. Then he had discovered that listing people as casualties of combat that had not actually died gave him a ready supply of cheap labour that could be sold to Factory owners and Land Barons. Things had been fine until a few of his stingy customers had avoided their monthly government bribes and International Watchdogs had descended like circling hawks. To avoid ending up in prison or worse a work camp, someone had informed on him. That was the end of his military career and the beginning of his life with the Triads. They always needed men like Sheu and the General had come through for them. Now as his reward, he was allowed to sit on one of the many poppy plantations drilling his hired army and preparing for a day when he could revenge himself on all the people he blamed for his life's few problems.
"Never mind the compound," Sheu snapped, "Why am I hearing that you flushed my trafficking operation down the tubes."
"Excuse me?" Chang asked calmly.
"I've heard that the Taiwanese bitch you use for killing was seen busting up my trafficking operation are we having a problem that I was not aware of."
Chang counted off his reasons on his fingers, "One...You set up a slaving operation on my doorstep, Two...you didn't cut me in for a taste. Three...Someone came looking to take the thing down. I offered my support - end of story."
"You've been drinking that lighter fluid the Russians call liquor?" The General screamed, "Do you think the other Triad bosses are going to keep you safe from me if I come down there and make you pay for crossing me."
Chang looked out the window and watched as another explosive plume of flame confirmed that the maid's war was getting hotter. "General I can honestly say that with what I have on my plate right this second I couldn't give less of a crap what's pissing you off."
"You know I hear you've been getting soft." The General snarled dangerously, "The others don't talk openly about it but some are wondering why you make that Russian wench push you around."
"General, I'm going to tell you the same thing I tell the rest of The Triad. Anytime one of you wants to come here and deal with Balalaika, let me know so I can have a sponge ready to collect all the parts of you that are still identifiable as human."
"Where do you get off calling me out Chang? You’re nothing but a dirty cop that got lucky enough not to get caught."
"...And you're a cowardly genocidal scumbag. I'd say of the two of us, heaven smiles brighter on me then you."
"I'm done pissing around with you Chang. I'm going to take the cost of my trafficking operation out of that indolent ass of yours."
"I'm touched you want to come all this way just for me.'
"Don't flatter yourself, one of my subordinates managed to preserve some of my stock so I'm coming down to personally supervise the transfer."
"Then you'll excuse me while go and brush my teeth. I'll want to look pretty for you." Chang hung up the phone. "Sometimes the day hands you a gimme." He smiled thoughtfully.
He had had his suspicions when Harris showed up looking for Slavers. The operation was too well financed and maintained to be the work of random leeches and lowlifes. If The General was running true to form it made sense that he had wanted a few Slayers. Chang didn't put too much thought into what Sheu wanted with mystically empowered women. He had enough thoughts that kept him up at night without adding Sheu's perverse diversions to that long list.
Regardless, this was good news. Sheu being behind the slaving of Slayer women made life easy indeed. The Watchers and the NSA could cut Sheu in two and each take a slice. The Grey Foxes would find it much easier to nail their target if he was in Roanapur. Once the General was gone, the Marines would leave which would leave Balalaika with no reason to make war. The Watchers would follow the Slayers or take their frustration out on the General. Either way that part of the problem would vanish as well. Of course he'd need a way of manipulating the situation. He reached for the phone again. No matter what else happened The Black Lagoon Crew had played their part. It was time for others to take the field.
The battle rolled through the warehouse district Xander was pounding through the hallways of the building they had chased the Americans to. He had seen Reilly several times but the man had not thus far seen him. Rosarita suddenly stopped and sniffed the air. "They are close,” she said coldly.
"Well duh, I thought that was why we were running, to catch up with the main force."
"Not the Marines, The FARC, I can smell them"
Xander looked at her nervously, "Yeah that's getting just a little freaky maybe you should slow down on the root." he said, "I mean how sharp do you really need to be."
Rosarita glanced left and right, making some calculations in her head. "I am going ahead to deal with them you stay here. Count to one thousand. After that follow me, do you understand?"
"Whoa, that was not the deal. WE track the Marines and I ID the Slayers, you ask your questions. After that we decide where to go from there."
"I am altering the deal," The Maid snapped, “Pray I do not wish to alter it further."
Xander startled, "A Star Wars reference, from you? That I would not expect."
Rosarita looked at him mystified for a moment. Xander began humming a slightly out of tune rendition of The Darth Vader march. Rosarita's eye softened as she recognized the tune.
She allowed herself to quietly drown in the memories of a better time. "Young Master, a gentleman should not concern himself with such frivolous pursuits." she whispered to the memory of Garcia's excited eyes which were undaunted by her criticism.
"Come on Roberta," Garcia had insisted, "Watch it with me, it will be fun." Indeed it was fun. Oh not the movie itself with its surrealistic portrayal of war and conflict, ham-fisted acting and childish antics. Garcia thought the saber fighting had been cool. Roberta would not have been so mean as to laugh at his boyish enthusiasm but honestly, if all the--what had they been called...Jedi-- if they all fought as the old man and in the later movies, the farm boy had, it was small wonder their precious order had been wiped out. What had been fun were Garcia's delighted eyes, and the smile of Diego when he had come to join them later. Diego had then taken his young son to the library and got him several classic books and movies that the man Lucas had pilfered for ideas. The boy had devoured each with eager joy.
She found herself back in the hall her memories releasing her. She was not back at la hacienda. She was in Roanapur with the American Harris; he was looking at her as if she were mad. Considering she had come back to this filthy island, perhaps he was right.
Rosarita looked at the young Watcher. "You are brave and resourceful," She said gently, "two traits that serve you well. On the battlefield however, you lack one extremely important gift Senor Harris. You have little experience." She held up a hand to stem the vitriolic rant he was about to unleash at her words. “I have little doubt your conflicts with the supernatural are deadly in their own way but fighting men is a different thing altogether."
Xander sighed, "So what’s the plan then?"
"I will deal with the FARC up ahead. They are flanking us in order to avoid the brunt of my attacks and The Marines response. You count to one thousand and then follow after. You should rendezvous with me well before I reach the Marines. We will deal with them and your Slayers."
"If you open up on the FARC, You'll alert the Marines. They'll know your still tracking them, assuming they don't already know. What if something goes wrong?"
Rosarita looked at him balefully, "Do not waste the precious little good will you have garnered with me thus far by asking me questions to which you already know the answers. Honestly, You have yet to satisfy my curiosity Harris, why you and why this cause. Why concern yourself with this sort of thing."
Xander sighed "Cause it's the right thing to do. Nobody should be in enslaved and people shouldn't be used to fight other peoples wars."
Rosarita sneered, "I know of at least six agencies that deal with international slave trading. Can you name even one?" She waited through Xander's silence. "It is not the crime which concerns you as much as the victims, these Slayers."
"OK fine, I hate seeing Slayers abused --big deal."
"How many times did you look at those scenes of torture before you told of your discovery and began your crusade? How many times did you look at it?"
"Thirty-three and that was only the amount I counted after I started keeping track."
"Who's face were you seeing, not some random girl being beaten and abused. You don't strike me as the type to get inflamed by such sights. Who's face were you really seeing?"
"Buffy Goddammit," Xander yelled, "Its always her, her face, her body. I always see her. Every time I find a Slayer or rescue them, counsel them, coach them, it’s always been about Buffy. " He lashed out at a nearby wall futilely, "Every one wonders why I couldn't stay around Slayer Island with the slaves after I helped them. How could I? Every time I look at them all, the only thing I see is Buffy. Men have done nothing but screw with those girls. Seeing them as property and less then property. It's must be some weird cosmic joke. Of all the people that could have found and rescued them these girls got stuck with the loser with a Slayer Fetish. The guy who's every major fantasy revolves around slayers and especially Buffy."
"So you fight for this Buffy, you made her cause your own."
"What was I supposed to do? Once I knew what was out there in the dark I couldn't ignore it anymore, couldn't turn aside. I saw her every day fighting things that in any sane world would not exist and she was doing it because of some random fluke of fate. She fought for me and died for me, twice. What was I supposed to do when the chance came to somehow repay that debt? When I'm around Buffy and the others I feel like a worthwhile human being. You want a drug that's addictive, never mind cocaine or heroin -- find a reason to believe in yourself after thinking that you were destined to be a loser for the rest of your life. I'll guarantee you won't be able to give that feeling up. You'll crave it, you'll do anything for it." He looked steadily into Rosarita's eyes, "Even travel half way around the world and face off against one of the most dangerous women on the planet,"
Rosarita looked at this man before her, His eyes, so bright they were shining. Just like the fiery eyes of a sickly young girl who had believed so much in the dreams of a better tomorrow she had remade herself. For a wild moment, she entertained a fantasy. Was this Santa Maria's doing? Was she meant to drive this young man away from the dark path she had walked so long ago or was she meant to drag him down it into darkness. Remaking him into another Bloodhound, one trained and driven to stalk the shadows. Something was already there behind his eyes. A pale shadow of her ruthlessness to be sure, but it was there. One nudge, one little push was all it would take. For this Buffy, he would stalk, kill, and worry his prey leaving its mangled corpse at her feet.
"I would tell you to go home but I doubt you would listen so wait here for me. Count to a thousand and then follow.... I will wait for you to rendezvous with me. We will deal with the Marines and the Slayers together. If they were as innocent as you claim, I will allow you to take them from this place. That is all I can or will promise."
She turned on her heel to go "I hope she is worth it Senor Harris, this Buffy, I hope that she is worth what you have endured, what you are becoming in her name."
"That's the secret to the amazing Bloodhound isn't it? You believe so much in the Old man that you can do anything in his name."
"Master Diego is dead, but his child, Garcia, yes for him I could do anything, will do anything."
A squad of FARC was waiting for Faith and the others when they moved to the next building to which Xander and the Maid had fled. This squad was far more eager for a fight then the last. They even managed to mount a crude pincer action so the group soon found themselves in crossfire.
"This Sucks, this really fuckin sucks!" Revy screamed in frustration as she gunned down an unwary trooper who had strayed from cover.
Rotton gunned down two more, "These foes are like mad dogs they must be put down in like fashion."
Faith dodged an incoming bullet, "I think we're the ones getting our noses rubbed in it." she screamed,
"I thinking we not ask for enough money," Shenhua snapped as she hurled a throwing blade at still another trooper who had tried rushing their position.
Faith looked at her blades and then the many metal pipes running the length of the hallway. "Mind if I borrow one of these?" She cried out quickly, slipping a blade from out of the sheath strapped to the assassin's leg.
Stepping out from cover, Faith hurled the blade as hard as her slayer strength allowed. The blade slammed into a pipe hanging over top of several of the fighters. The pipe spewed boiling hot steam, filling the hallway and causing some of the men to scream in agony at being cooked by the heat.
Several of the men broke from cover charging blindly down the hallway trying to escape the heat, Fabiola scrambled from her post by Garcia's side, leaping into the air to slam both feet into a charging soldier's chest, knocking him backward. As she landed on the floor, she swirled her legs around to trip two more men who fell to her follow up gunfire.
One of the FARC's screamed a curse at the mini-maid in Spanish. He was leveling his pistol to cut her down with he was cut down by a no-look shot from Rotton. "To assault such beauty deserves no mercy." he said poetically as he swirled his gun around to cut down a few more soldiers.
"What do ya know?" Revy cackled, "the Gigolo has some skills," She gunned down foes left and right. Some she rarely even glanced at before firing the kill shot that took their lives.
"Young Master, you must flee." Fabiola cried out. "I can't protect you properly with things as they are." She fired a volley of gunfire down the hallway. She followed the gunfire with a well places grenade round to keep the other side cowering in fear.
Garcia nodded, “I’ll meet you up ahead, I'll try and find Roberta." he took a last look at his maid before fleeing up the hallway.
Rotton caught sight of one of the men getting too close to Sawyer and crying out a warning, charged the man to bravely body-check him. Shenhua kicked the man in the head hard enough that there was a grotesque snap as the man slumped to the floor like a lifeless puppet. She knelt at Rotton's side focusing on getting the man back to his feet and did not see the soldier coming in from behind, Sawyer however did.
She stepped in front of the charging man blocking his shots with the spinning blade of her chainsaw. With a grim smile, The Cleaner rammed the blade into the man's body hauling the screaming soldier into the air. She began advancing down the hallway with her improvised shield. The soldier's body shaking as it absorbed shots from panicked soldiers. Revy and Rotton sheltered behind Sawyer and her meat puppet shield. Fabiola followed their lead firing grenades into their lines. Then they peppered the enemy lines with hyper-accurate gunfire. The troopers will to fight was being broken one death at a time.
Rotton pointed out they had almost disposed of the squad. Bodies littered the hallway. Revy noticed a least one of them was struggling back to his feet.
"Fucking Survivors I hate Survivors." Revy cursed.
"First you bitch cause we kill everyone now your bitching cause we don't." Faith snapped.
Revy advanced on the wounded trooper, preparing to shot him as she had the other. "I wanted something out of the other guy. We know everything we need to about these assholes. "
The soldier dug into his pocket and pulled from it a vial which he put to his lips, ingesting its contents. Seconds later he began screaming. Rising from the floor he pulled two knives and began racing up the hallway toward the combatants ignoring all their gunshots and some of Shenhua’s throwing blades.
"I've got this!" Shenhua snapped and met him with kukri blades swirling. She cut him in a dozen spots and stabbed him a dozen more and he still attacked with incredible speed. After they had dueled for what seemed like hours but was only a few seconds, the screaming trooper, flailing wildly, managed to grab Shenhua and hurled her bodily away from him. Rotton reached out and snagged her from the air. "Angels should always have wings if they are planning to fly" He said as he set her gracefully on the ground.
Faith stepped out to face the still screaming soldier. "My turn," she began trading blows and strikes both with hand and blade with the man and once again his speed with incredible for a human. Yet Faith's slayer-sense picked up nothing unusual about him. This was not a demon in disguise or half-ling using inherited powers; this was a man who had remade himself; becoming more then human somehow. His red eyes and bulging veins were a testament enough of that.
Faith stabbed at him with her sword but he kept coming. She cut him across the chest and even slashed at his legs but he kept coming. Finally annoyed and riding on her own fully cranked open adrenaline rush, she rammed the full length of the Ginji's Manslayer into the man's chest. The enraged man grabbed for Faith so she snagged his arms as he flailed at her. Faith wrenched hard and felt the bones in his arms snap and dislocate. Grabbing the man, she began punching him with increasing ferocity, mentally counting off her blows. She was at twenty when she felt his rib cage shatter, thirty-five when his organs gave way to the force of her blows and she had counted forty-five when she felt her fist snapping the man's spinal column. His body was doubled over by the force of her blows and yet still the man screamed and cursed them in both English and Spanish.
Faith snatched her sword back from his chest and let him collapse to the floor where he still flailed helplessly. Faith jammed her foot down on his back and lashed out with her sword taking off his head with a single blow finally silencing his screams.
"Now that was fucked up," Revy said "Nice work Southie," Revy handed Faith one of her cigarettes.
The Slayer was about to tell the Gunslinger that she didn't normally smoke, suddenly the aching need to quiet the raging adrenalin storm made her draw the acrid tasting smoke into her lungs.
"I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer," Faith muttered as she exhaled smoke, " But even I know that was not normal."
"Perhaps this might be a clue." Sawyer in the strange monotone forced upon her by the ultra-voice she wore so she could speak. She was holding up the vial the man had consumed before his rampage.
"What is it?" Faith asked curiously,
"I haven't a clue but I'm thinking one of those gentlemen might know." she pointed down the hallway at the crowd of bodies they had left strewn in the hallway. Indeed one of them was weakly climbing back to his feet fumbling for something in his pocket. Revy kicked his hand away from his pocket and reached in to remove the vial that was secreted there.
"What's this?" she snapped
The man cursed her in Spanish while trying to snatch back the vial as Revy dangled it in front of him. "Hey, Ms. Maid get your ass over here and tell Sparky what the score is."
Fabiola spoke with the man who turned his curses upon her and even at one point spit at her.
"He said..." Fabiola started but Revy cut her off.
"I know what he said, some things don't need fucking translation. Hey Sawyer can you do something here, we are kind of in a hurry."
"Only one way to know for sure." Sawyer shrugged as she dragged the soldier over to a wall. "Zip ties," She held out her hand.
Rotten plunged his hands into his voluminous coat pockets producing several of the hard plastic ties.
Faith looked at him quizzically, "You just carry restraints around in your pockets?"
"I believe in being prepared." Rotten said simply.
Sawyer tied the man's hands and feet to the pipes. Once he was spread eagle across the wall Sawyer Motioned to Fabiola saying to her, "Translate please."
"What do you want me to say?"
"Tell him if he tells us what we want to know I'll leave his face intact."
Fabiola spoke with him rapidly; he cursed her again. He was however looking at Sawyer nervously.
The Mini-Maid was frustrated, "He still doesn't wish to talk. Are you sure this will work?"
"I very good at my work." Sawyer motioned to Faith who nodded grimly and pulled one of the steam pipes from the wall. Donning gloves Sawyer grabbed the pipe and began directing the super hot steam at various parts of the man He began screaming.
"He's a screamer" Faith muttered, “Guess we're going to be here a while."
Sawyer redirected the steam so that it was hitting the man very strategically. He began crying and wailing. “I doubt it, criers don't usually last as long as screamers."