Prologue: The Hunter who came in from the Heat
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The first fan fic I ever wrote. By request, I decided to add it here. Also I'm taking the opportunity to review and revise it hoping that it'll give me the incentive I need to finish the rest of the series.
One year later...
Wax Market, Lagos, Nigeria
Xander sat. And waited. A few years ago he would have been bouncing in nervous energy from the waiting and the heat. A year in the jungles and deserts of Africa and places beyond had calmed him. And changed him in ways even he was still trying to figure out. It was said that Africa was a magical place. An Old place of the deep magic. Mostly it was a shithole. At least the places that he tended to find himself.
Looking around at the mass of people in the crowded marketplace from his open air table, Xander saw who he was waiting for.
Mr. Barnes. He approached slowly as he always did, apparently without a care in the world, but Xander knew better.
Xander never did figure out what the man's first name was. Not that it really mattered since even Barnes was most likely a fake. He watched as his contact approached and sat down in front of him without a word of greeting; wondering as he often did how such an overweight and unkempt man as Mr. Barnes could keep from sweating in such a place as this.
As the man sat down and ordered a drink from the waitress who had quickly approached, Xander slipped his right hand under the table to rest on the handgun he had hidden there. While they shared a steady working relationship, though petering out some now, Xander knew he couldn't really trust the man in front of him. Barnes was assigned to him after all. Not part of the organization. Him being here now was a statement.
Xander knew his own position was secure enough for the powers that be. The organization he truly represented had proven itself capable. Which was more than could be said for those used in the past. The message wasn’t about him at all. It was about the slayers. The Company wasn’t apt to let a bunch of supersoldiers out of its grasp, not without getting something in return.
Intelligence focused as it may be, the Company never gave up an opportunity for an advantage. The higher-ups in the agency must have been pretty peeved that the slayers had been declared assets of the newly developed Level 6, despite not actively controlling them. It had been one of the terms of his employ. But, things in the E-ring changed quickly, and it was hardly like every governmental body played well together. No matter how many good men wanted it different.
"Bad times, Mr. Harris. Bad times." Barnes took a drink after the waitress had walked away after depositing his beverage. Pulling a large white envelope from his pocket, he looked at Xander with an unhappy expression before setting it onto the table. "Eight months ago, you came to me. And we made a deal."
Barnes had been one of his first, if not the first, contact, officially at least. He’d moved up in the world while Barnes had stayed in the hot zone. Territory that Xander just visited sometimes. Not something that would make Barnes particularly friendly to him. They didn’t have to pretend anymore.
Xander took the envelope and spread the contents on the table with one hand. They were pictures. Stills from a video taken from some battle site in some forest he didn't recognize. What he did recognize however, was the mess that it was. Burnt corpses and burnt tents were spread in a clearing. He could see crossbow bolts, swords, and axes strewn across the ground. Primitive weaponry in the eyes of most.
The last two photos were what brought him up short. A corpse, not completely burned, allowed him to recognize who or rather what the inhabitants of the small village had been. Xander shot a questioning look towards Mr. Barnes.
"Kwaini," Barnes answered Xander's unspoken question, though he knew that the younger associate of the Watchers' Council, amongst other affiliations, already knew that.
"Since you're coming to me with this, I assume that slayers are responsible?" Xander asked, not liking where the situation was going. The species meant that the weapons on the ground didn’t belong to the inhabitants. And it wasn't like that many hunters still ran around with swords and crossbows. Not for large scale attacks. And certainly not ones that were that messy.
"Yes. These were taken in the Black Forest two days ago. A day before that, German airport security video reveals the arrival of 10 young girls originally departing from Cleveland. Or rather, revealed." Barnes gulped down his drink and raised a hand to order another. “I’m sure you get the idea.”
"I know you. You don't really care that these were Kwaini or that some tribe of demons just got wiped out. So why come to me?" Xander asked, beginning to see where this was leading. Still, he had to play the part he was given.
"We're both of us professionals. This however, was not. We provide you with the immunity and discretion you need to carry on your activities at home and abroad. And you do your job under the radar. That was the agreement, Mr. Harris. Level 6 can only protect you so far." Barnes grabbed the photos from the table tossed them into a pile with disgust. "And, before you ask, there was no evidence of drug use. Your former associate in LA saw to the end of that nonsense."
"So, the Germans are complaining about what happened?" In truth, Xander didn't really care about the politics of the massacre. He was more concerned that a group of slayers, apparently with approval from the reformed Watchers’ Council, had wiped out a settlement of balance demons. More damning, they had done it in the sloppiest way possible.
"So far, they don't know exactly what happened. Or who was responsible. Department C is in an uproar about a mass demon attack that they didn't see coming. And they're going to eventually ask “us” to help look into things," Barnes explained. He leaned in and spoke quietly. “The official line of the Agency is that they are unhappy that the independence you were granted is biting us in the ass. They’re…we’re...thinking that perhaps we need to rethink the arrangement we have with you.”
"And you want me to turn on my friends?" Xander retorted.
"I've been keeping count. You found all of two slayers in the entire continent. This isn't exactly an assignment that shows how valuable you are to the Council's operations," Barnes replied, picking at a sore spot that he had picked up long ago. He also had access to the man's psych profile. Contradictions abounded in that. As well as loyalty and guilt, in near equal measures.
"That's not enough, you know." Xander sighed. "What do you want me to do?"
Despite his rather lowly position in the Council, Xander still cared about the slayers and didn't want to think about what would happen if the Company turned its attention onto them. He had relied on the Council’s discretion to keep them independent. It seemed like that might have been a mistake.
Barnes had him. To a point.
"The boys upstairs are clear. This can't happen again. We can't keep protecting your people if they can't be discrete. The Kwaini that your rather ill-informed friends decided to exterminate were granted honorary human status and German citizenship. Their government is dropping terms, like “act of war” and “crime against humanity.” That was a clan that just got wiped off the map. Congratulations, your friends just committed genocide." Barnes stood up indicating that the meeting was coming to a close. "You need to get your house in order. Or we'll do it for you."
Barnes reached into a pocket and dropped a plane ticket onto the table, and started to walk away.
Xander watched the man's retreating form as he pulled the ticket to Cleveland towards himself. He looked down at the pictures again as well.
Once the Company man had walked out of view, the tourist at the next table stood up and took the now abandoned seat. His name was Curtis Meyers. 10 years in the Baltimore office of the FBI before he had been “asked” to retire for asking the wrong questions. Bad times led to good ones. Meyers had answers now. No more depression. No more suicidal thoughts. And a steady paycheck that kept his kids in private school and his wife able to pay the bills.
Still, he sometimes questioned if it was worth it.
“What now?” Special Agent Meyers asked. They were all special agents now, though he was again. The field team members were considered “operators.” He was a good shot. And a better investigator. A decade in the Violent Crimes division until he came across the Case. The end of one job. The start of another. Same goal though. He was in country for their job in Nigeria and made for a good backup man. More subtle than the others, a skill that was evidently becoming harder to come by.
Xander looked at his second in command and then down at the pile of photos again. His eye focused on the corpses. “Now, I go home.”