Chapter Seventeen – Always a Little Further Part 5
[—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—]No Fate: The Collected Data Files Volume One
Chapter Seventeen – Always a Little Further Part Five
Monday 30th June 1997
Stirling Lines, Hereford, England
22nd Special Air Service Regimental Headquarters
The sun was just clearing the top of the wooden plinth upon which a four-sided clock was set. Around the plinth’s base, gleaming in the blood-red dawn sunshine, were three large bronze panels, each inscribed with several dozen names.
Faith caught a glimpse of the words ‘barr’d with snow’
and ‘that glimmering sea’
on one of the plaques as she and Xander headed past the clock on their way from their room to the cookhouse. In obedience to an unconscious habit she’d first formed two weeks before, the Slayer favoured the clock with a solemn and respectful nod as they passed by. A lump formed in her throat as she did so, then slowly dissipated as she left the memorial behind.[—]
As the Slayer and the Terminator pushed through the cookhouse’s grey swinging doors, they were hit by a now-familiar and comforting barrage of noise: crashing plates, hissing steam, clinking mugs, metal chair-legs rattling as they were scraped across the dull-red tiled floor, the steady roar of over a hundred voices in animated conversation. The large L-shaped room was filled with the warm, appetising aroma of freshly-cooked food.
Roughly half of the cookhouse’s customers were trainees on Selection, by now halfway through the spring-to-autumn course; the others had the air of confidence and deliberate step that Faith had come to associate with the Regiment’s ‘badged’ personnel. These latter were mostly familiar faces from D Squadron, plus a few others the Slayer vaguely recognised as members of the Training Wing, some of whom gave the two newcomers welcoming nods or smiles in passing… and, yes, there was Newton at a table in the far corner as usual, already starting his own breakfast and giving the leather-clad Slayer and her Terminator companion a wave of friendly invitation. Faith grinned back and flashed him a thumbs-up in acceptance of his offer.
Two shining aluminium-and-glass serveries ran the length of each leg of the room. Behind them, men and women decked out in regulation kitchen whites swiftly glided backwards and forwards among the steaming vats and clanking ovens, going about their business in apparent chaos but no doubt following some well-rehearsed routine.
Faith got to the head of the queue and started to move along by the hotplate, which as ever looked like a tribal feast day in the jungle. On display there was food, mountains of food, all of it incredibly appetising. Beside a tureen of steaming hot soup, a large wicker basket overflowed with big blocky chunks of freshly-baked bread. A mound of rich yellow butter, which looked as if it had been tipped straight out of the farmyard urn, had several knives carelessly protruding from it. In the middle section there was a choice: a help-yourself tray full of lamb chops, swimming in savoury juices, and a mammoth joint of beef impaled on a spiked turntable.
A large cook was poised over the beef with a gleaming carving knife and a long two-pronged fork; he looked as if he would have been equally at ease wielding a machete in the jungle. His craggy ruddy-red face lit up in delight upon seeing Faith and Xander, and he beamed at them. “The usual, Slayer?” he asked loudly, raising his voice to battle against the background hubbub.
“Yes please, Tim,” Faith happily replied.
The brawny cook stabbed the fork into the joint and deftly swung it around on the turntable to get the right angle for carving. The meat compressed as the gleaming knife bit into it, and rich juices oozed from the pink centre. “Crackling?” he offered, depositing the first thick slices of meat on one of the plates upon Faith’s first tray before starting to carve the next slice from the joint.
Faith nodded eagerly. “I’d love some.”
No sooner were the words out of her mouth than a huge chunk of crackling was deposited over the first two thick slices of meat.[—]
Faith balanced a tray in each hand as she made her way through the tables. The trays bore six plates of food between them, liberally heaped with thick slices of beef and crackling, rashers of crispy bacon, fried eggs with bulging golden yolks, juicy lamb chops, big slabs of thick hot buttered toast, and generous portions of fat golden salted and vinegar-soaked chips. Xander followed her, carrying a third tray full of glasses of ice-cold fizzing and sugar-laden lemonade, and an enormous two-litre mug that was full nearly to the brim with red hot steaming tea.
Reaching their usual table, the Slayer and the Terminator sat down opposite Newton.
The SAS corporal shook his head and grinned as he watched Faith tuck into her breakfast with unfettered gusto. “Fucking hoofing,” he sighed happily.
“Mnuht?” Faith mumbled indistinctly around a mouthful of chops.
“It’s not often I get to see someone enjoy their nosh as much as you do,” Newton explained. “That, and most girls your age are completely mental about dieting and watching their figures and shit.”
“That’sh th’ good ol’ Shlayer metabolishum for ya,” Faith told him with a contented smirk, still happily munching away. “I shtill ain’t gained an ounche even though I been eatin’ like thish ever shinche I got here, an’ I managed ta pack a fair bit away even before that. I keep eatin’ ‘ike ish, an’ I coul’ maybe go fer months at a time without eatin’ if I ever hadda.”
“Handy stuff,” Newton observed.
“Damn right – EEERRRPP!”
the Slayer paused to let fly a long and loud belch, then looked a little embarrassed. “‘Scuse me…”
Newton dismissively shook his head. “No drama,” he assured her.
“Damn, that was loud even fer th’ new an’ improved Slayer-ised me…” Faith admitted.
Newton grinned. “I’ve heard louder.”
, ‘xactly?” Faith asked as she set aside her first empty plate and started on her second one.
“Three hill giants, two Fyarl demons, a succubus high priestess, and this really biiiig
bloke we had with us on exchange from the Aussies last year,” Newton automatically listed off, not pausing once during his recitation.
Faith looked thoughtful, wracking her memory as she popped a forkful of steak into her mouth. “Ain’t succubuses those sex demon chicks?”
“Yep,” Newton nodded. “They’re a bit like regular buses: you spend ages waiting for one, only for three of ‘em to come all at once.”
Faith took a second to mentally re-run what she’d just heard, then grinned dirtily and let out a cackle of appreciative laughter. “Good one, man.”
Newton looked exaggeratedly smug, hamming it up. “I thought so.”
“So, what’s new?”
“Well, the Colonel had a word with me last night, after we’d knocked off for the day,” said Newton. “So far as the bureaucrats at the MoD are concerned, your suits of Embassy Black Tie – and all the gear and weapons to go with them – and your Lannie are only on loan to you two. However, anyone who actually matters
thinks that that’s a load of old bollocks, so you don’t need to worry about returning any kit; it’s yours now, and that’s the end of it. Call them souvenirs or really late birthday prezzies or something if you like. They’ll get shipped out to the ‘Dale at the end of the week.”
Faith’s eyes widened in surprise and she stopped chewing, then swallowed. “A-are you guys sure?”
Newton chuckled. “Oh, yeah. Figured you’d get more use out of those than a snow globe.”
“That assessment is correct,” Xander intoned.
“Glad you think so,” said Newton.
“A snow globe is of significantly inferior tactical utility,” continued the Terminator. “It possesses a great many shortcomings as an offensive weapon, making for an inefficient blunt instrument and a non-aerodynamic projectile.”
Newton slowly nodded. “Gotta admit, I’d never thought of it quite like that before…”
Faith grinned. “Can’t argue with any a’ that, though.”
“True,” Newton agreed. “So, how’d your meeting about the ‘Dale and Wilkins go last night, with the Director’s headshed?”
“Yeah, it went real well, thanks,” Faith said, nodding and looking contemplative. “We talked over a whole buncha options for other units an’ vehicles could be deployed in th’ ‘Dale; we gotta couple promising long-term possibilities.”
“We getting any extra kit in the near-future?”
“Buncha M202s, extra LAW 80s, ‘nother jimpy…” Faith listed off. “Plus three gunned-up Lannies; we can’t take ‘em in the graveyards or unnerground, but they won’t need loads a’ support staff t’ run an’ we can use ‘em damn near everywhere else in town – maybe even drive ‘em inside the mall in a pinch.”
“Sounds like a good Friday night out,” Newton chuckled.
Faith grinned at that. “Yeah, sure does… top a’ that, we’ll get a couple more signallers, maybe a couple REME fitters t’ help keep the vehicles running, plus ‘nough badged bods t’ make up four fire teams minimum, maybe five if Alan c’n swing it…”[—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—]
“Morning, Roddy,” Forwood called out as he entered the bustling Ops Room.
“Ah, good morning, sir,” Griffiths replied. “We weren’t expecting you until—”
“I know,” Forwood cut him off. “Anything happening?”
Consulting his clipboard, Griffiths shook his head. “Nothing urgent, no, sir.”
Forwood nodded. “Good, good…”
“Odd report from H Troop came in during the night, though. It isn’t time-sensitive, just… strange.”
Forwood looked intrigued. “Oh?”
“Sixty-seven people, most of them city officials, died in Sunnydale yesterday morning – local time, that is,” Griffiths amended. “Local press is saying that they were cases of spontaneous human combustion; they all went up simultaneously.”
Forwood raised a sceptical eyebrow. “And what are Hades Troop and the Scooby Gang saying?”
Griffiths gave a wry smile. “Well, the boys from Llewellyn Technologies managed to… ahem… access
the security systems of various public buildings, and found that several of the deaths were caught on CCTV. It wasn’t combustion; they all exploded. Sergeant Kirklee took a look at the feed, and he’s positive that it’s identical to what he saw happen to Wilkins when he
blew up, just on a smaller and less destructive scale. According to the time stamps on the footage, they all died at the exact
same time as Wilkins did.”
“Hm,” Forwood grunted noncommittally. “Certainly sounds like they had some sort of magical connection to him.”
“Captain Reckliss is pretty certain of that, too, sir.”
“How has Sunnydale’s human community reacted?”
“They haven’t,” said Griffiths. “It’s not even front-page news: the ‘Sunnydale Press’ has got it on Page Nine and ‘Sunnydale Today’ has it on Page Seventeen. Radio Sunnydale briefly mentioned it as their final bulletin ten seconds before they started the weather forecast. Instead, they’re all leading with a story about the completion of a new wing for the town’s mental institute.”
Forwood shook his head in disbelief. “I assume that that’s the ‘Sunnydale Syndrome’ the Scoobies warned us about at work?”
“Alright… What about the supernatural community?”
“Looks like they know the real story, sir, or at least part of it. Captain Hastings says it seems to be early days, but they’re pretty shocked for now. Last night’s patrol was pretty quiet as most vampires and demons seemed to be either staying in or were out at various bars gossiping about Wilkins’ death. They seem to believe Slayer Faith is responsible, in large part because she established a reputation very early on for using firearms. H Troop and the Scoobies only bagged nine vampires and a pair of Fyarl demons between them during the patrol itself.”
“Not bad going,” Forwood said approvingly. “Out of curiosity, who exactly
dropped dead yesterday?”
Griffiths consulted his clipboard again. “Um… Both judges, the district attorney, a dozen lawyers – that’s every single lawyer that worked in the town,” Griffiths added. “Then there’s the Board of Directors of the local hospital, the school board, several senior faculty members and lecturers at the university, the commander of the local National Guard armoury, the chief of the town’s police force and his deputy… and all seventeen traffic wardens went up as well. That seems to be about it.”
“Only on a Hellmouth…” Forwood groaned.
“The good news is that at least it helps to cover Wilkins’ death,” Griffiths pointed out. “So far as the average Sunnydaler is concerned, he was merely yet another case of SHC.”
“Yes, I suppose that does
make life easier for us…” Forwood conceded.
“Oh, and Slayer Faith received a letter from Director Travers late last night,” Griffiths added.
Forwood gave a grunt of disdain. “What did he want?”
“A meeting at the Council’s headquarters,” said Griffiths. “Apparently, he wants it low-profile; only one field Watcher knows about it.”
“Late this morning, sir; Corporal Cohen will be taking her down the town to get a set of, ah, enhanced
“From Ms. Bramley?”
“Yes, sir.” [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—]The Pentagon, Arlington, Virginia
The office was dim and dark, lit only by a lamp atop the desk.
The room’s sole occupant was a tall man wearing a US Army day uniform, his jacket off. He sat in the shadows, leaning back in his reclining office chair and staring deep in thought at a map affixed to the wall. A cigar was clenched between his teeth, smoke curling lazily from the end, which glowed a bright cherry-red in the night’s darkness. Light barely brushed the three stars that adorned each of his shirt’s epaulettes, leaving the silver metal rank insignia twinkling in response to the slow and steady motions of his breathing.
A clock on the desk indicated that it was just past five o’clock in the morning; next to the clock was a brass nameplate that read ‘Lt. Gen. J. Burrell’
The office’s intercom buzzed. “Sir, Colonel Whitton is here.”
The cigar-smoking officer slowly nodded, then hit a button on his desk, never taking his eyes from the map. “Send him in,” Burrell ordered.
The door swung open a second later. Whitton marched in, backlit by the light from the corridor outside until the door was closed behind him.
“Tom,” Burrell offered by way of greeting. “What do you have for me?”
“Our Directorate people just reported in concerning the manhunt: still no sightings of Summers,” said Whitton. “So far as Director Pryde’s concerned, Hostile 2 has fallen completely off the grid.”
The cigar glowed brighter in response to a deep drag upon it. “She’ll turn up back on it again… and when she does, so will we. Give her enough time, and she’ll make a mistake.”
“Do you have any orders, sir?” Whitton asked.
“Yes…” Burrell sat forward in his seat and turned to face Whitton – at least, Whitton assumed he was, as the glowing end of the cigar was now pointing directly at him, “…I want you to start making preparations. When the time comes, I don’t want to have to wait around. Get the usual wish-list… actionable intel, a team, equipment, weapons, aircraft, C3I support element: full package. And you make damned
sure that Kinsey and his pets don’t get wind of it; they get the slightest sniff of what we’re gonna do, they’ll shut us straight down.”
“Yes, sir,” Whitton obediently replied. “Um… sir?”
“You have a question?”
“Ask it. Consider that an order if it makes you more comfortable.”
“Well, sir… how can you be so sure? The Summers manhunt is the NID’s jurisdiction – I just don’t see how that’ll change any time soon.”
Burrell gave a soft chuckle. “Walsh is the key,” he replied. “She’s got plenty
of rope to hang herself with, now. It’s only a matter of time before she screws up enough for the President to decide to return the Initiative to our
control, where it belongs. When that happens, I want to hit the ground running and take Summers down straight outta the gate. We’ll do it fast, we’ll do it tight, we’ll do it right.
retake the Initiative, Colonel. It’s only a matter of time.” [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—]Initiative Base of Operations Echo Four, Sunnydale, CA
Walsh entered Room 259 to find Angleman already there, intently studying a computer monitor. “What do you think, Jack?” she asked.
Angleman jumped. “Oh, Director – I-I didn’t hear you come in,” he stammered as he looked up at her; reaching for a file, he held it out to her. “Er, well… so far, the most promising candidates are Finn, Gates, Mariotte, Vornholt, DeBrandt, Passarella, and Ruditis; if we’re going to advance anyone to the Phase Four enhancement any time soon, then they’re our best options right now.”
Walsh accepted the file, flipped it open and began examining the printouts within. “EKGs show a good sinus rhythm…” she mused aloud, “electrolytes and metabolic panels are within normal limits, chest x-rays are clear, prostate screens are fine… no evidence of ischemic changes for any of them…” She looked up from the file. “Good work.”
“I’ll make the necessary preparations then, Director?” Angleman offered.
“Drop Finn and Gates from the list, but begin the procedure for the others,” Walsh ordered.
“May I ask why not those two?”
“Due to their rank and combat experience, replacing Finn and Gates at any point in the next year would decrease our strike teams’ combat efficiency to an unacceptable degree,” said Walsh. “The others are sufficiently low-ranking and have no field experience, so they’re far more expendable. If they fail to survive, we have reserves that we can call upon.”
“Should we maybe delay the Phase Four enhancement, Director, until we can run some more tests and simulations?” Angleman suggested.
“Absolutely not,” Walsh insisted. “We need to get results and continue
“Director… with all due respect, I’m not really sure we should be advancing Project 259 at this speed,” Angleman said quietly. “We originally scheduled our test subjects for the Phase One bio-tech force enhancement process to receive the treatment over twenty-four to thirty months before even we even thought
about commencing the Phase Two enhancement; and after that, another eighteen months at the bare minimum before we initiated Phase Three, with a similar interval between Three and Four. All test subjects should only be at Phase One right now.”
“And that makes good scientific sense, Jack; but this is no longer a purely scientific matter,” Walsh replied. “If we’re to keep General Burrell from taking direct control of the Initiative program, then we need
“We’ve already had one fatality from the Phase One enhancement, three from Phase Two, and five from Phase Three,” protested Angleman. “Surely, putting more of the test subjects in body bags because we rushed the BFE Mark Two program will only end up reflecting badly on us?”
“If we can prove that the program can produce useful results, then the powers-that-be in Washington won’t care if we have to kill a hundred soldiers in order to successfully enhance one,” Walsh said dismissively. “Seventy-seven men have survived Phases One through Three; and Agent Romero survived Phase Two enhancement and was a very promising subject until his accident in Springton.
“Project 259 is far more useful than the DEWS carbines, and has killed less than half as many personnel; these are easily acceptable losses,” Walsh continued. “Out of all the projects that the Initiative program has running right now, 259 promises to be the most versatile of all. If only one man out of this first batch of test subjects survives the Phase Four enhancement, then that will be a successful result.”
“But what about the side effects on their mental state?” Angleman persisted. “Colonel Matthewman and his people are doing a good job of finding troops who possess a suitable degree of patriotic loyalty and socio-political ideologies that are compatible with this project’s requirements: but Phase One drove them all pretty crazy, while Phases Two and Three have taken them from patriotism to borderline fanaticism.”
Walsh shrugged. “What’s your point?”
“Director, you know that I’m all in favour of making this project work, but the control chips aren’t anywhere near ready for implantation yet – how will we keep the Phase Four subjects in line if their mental states deteriorate even further?” Angleman asked. “In such an eventuality, they could do one hell
of a lot of damage to this program, both physically and politically… I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready to die or start job-hunting any time soon, especially not with so much of my CV redacted.”
Walsh smiled. “The control chips may not be ready, but the last resort chips are,”
she pointed out. “If we do
have problems with insubordination among the Phase Four subjects, then we pull the plug on them outright.”
“Without the scheduled observation periods between enhancement procedures, we will have absolutely no idea what the long-term effects on their physical and mental health could be,” said Angleman. “None.
We could well end up losing all of the test subjects and have to start over.”
Walsh gave an indifferent shrug. “There are always casualties in war,” she said simply. “The long-term cost is irrelevant: in the short
-term, we need every possible advantage with which to combat the menaces of the HSTs, the Goa’uld, and those… big-game hunters that General Phillips keeps chasing. If we fail to acquire such assets, then this country won’t have
a ‘long-term’ with which to concern itself.
“Besides, we know that the Nazis and Soviets ran bio-tech force enhancement programs, some of which were very successful,” she mused aloud, deep in thought. “Who’s to say that, for example, North Korea or Qumar aren’t working on similar programs of their own right now?”
“True enough,” Angleman conceded.
“And that’s not our only concern; ever since the Soviet Union collapsed, a lot of their military hardware has wound up on the international black market, including some of their more… exotic
material. If the Bahji or any other terrorist group ever buy copies of their technical data and enhance some of their own people, then who knows what kind of damage they could do if we lack those same capabilities?” Walsh shook her head decisively. “No: we need this capability, Jack, and we need it right now.”
“You’re sure about this, Director?” Angleman asked.
“I am,” Walsh said confidently.
Angleman slowly nodded. “I’ll start prepping the first group of test subjects for Phase Four enhancement, then.”[—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—]The Council of Watchers’ Headquarters, London
“Thank you for meeting with me at such short notice,” Travers greeted Faith and Xander as they entered the room.
The leather-clad Slayer shrugged. “I was kinna curious what alla th’ cloak-an’-dagger stuff was in aid of,” Faith admitted, looking around the basement-level room that Robson had discretely led them to. “Figured this was th’ fastest way t’ find out.”
Travers nodded, then glanced at Robson. “Thank you, Doctor; you can go,” Travers said politely but firmly.
“Sir,” Robson acknowledged, then turned and left.
Faith raised an eyebrow, openly intrigued. “So, when d’ we get answers?” she asked.
“Right now,” Travers told her. “The matter I wished to discuss with you concerns… well, it concerns the nature of Slayers.”
Faith quirked a small grin. “I’m listening.”
“A Slayer’s body is a miracle—”
Faith’s grin widened. “Thanks fer noticing,” she cut in.
Travers shook his head, looking faintly amused. “That isn’t what I was referring to,” he said, turning sombre. “Slayers’ bodies are improved in a great many ways. If they were suffering from medical conditions such as cancers, tumours, or infections before they were Called, then those conditions are completely eliminated when they become Slayers – eliminated so completely that it’s as if they’d never existed at all.”
Faith looked intrigued. “Huh…
Never knew that before…”
“Slayers can completely recover from injuries that would instantly kill a human being,” Travers continued. “They can endure all manner of hardships and remain able to fight when anyone else would be hard-pressed simply to stay alive. And, provided they eat a suitably large diet and survive long enough… they cease to physically age.”
“How’s anyone know that? I thought Slayers didn’t last long?” Faith asked.
“Most don’t,” Travers agreed. “But there have been patches of history when things were relatively quiet among the world’s supernatural communities, which enabled a handful of Slayers to live rather longer lives than their sisters. Make no mistake, those women were still good Slayers in their own right and that is part of why they lived for so long; but it did help that they had fewer enemies to fight.”
Faith nodded. “So, how far did they get?”
“Slayer Hilde was in her late thirties when she fell in battle with the Sisterhood of Jhe, during the 1380s if memory serves,” Travers told her. “According to her Watcher’s diaries, she still appeared to be a girl of no more than sixteen or seventeen summers, and had stopped visibly growing older at around that age.”
Faith let out a low whistle. “Pretty impressive.”
“Indeed,” Travers agreed. “When one considers that people physically age slower today than they did in that era – due to access to clean water supplies, better diet, improved standards of hygiene and so on – and that the average human lifespan was shorter back then, then by today’s standards she would likely have appeared to be somewhere in her early to mid-twenties.
“As you can imagine, a lot of people would give a great deal to duplicate even a fraction of this power,” the Watcher continued. “Even worse, there are a great many rituals involving dark magic that can be greatly enhanced… if
the mortal remains of a champion of the light can be corrupted and used as components for the spell in question.”
Faith grimaced. “Gross.”
“Quite,” Travers said wryly. “So a lot of dark mages the world over would dearly love to get their hands on the body of a Slayer… or a live one.”
Faith nodded. “Well, that’s all real interestin’ an’ kinna disturbing… but somehow, I’m guessin’ ya didn’t ask me t’ come here just fer a lecture.”
“Indeed not, Slayer Faith,” said Travers. “I need you to see something, and I have a request; one that I would rather certain factions among the Council didn’t know about.”
Faith shrugged. “Can’t guarantee I’ll say ‘yes’.”
“I’m… quietly confident that you will,” Travers replied, then gestured toward the door. “If you’ll follow me?”
“Lead on, MacDuff,” Faith quipped, eliciting another almost-smile from the Watcher.[—]
“So, how come you guys got such a rabbit warren down here?” Faith asked, as Travers led the Slayer and the Terminator down yet another winding subterranean corridor. “Seems like ya got more building unnerground than ya do up top.”
“That’s because we do. Have you ever heard of Krannag demons?” Travers replied.
Faith shook her head. “Naw, they don’t ring no bells.”
“I’m not surprised; they mostly live deep underground and keep to themselves, don’t make much trouble,” said Travers. “They tend to ignore humans, and the rest of the surface world to boot, so it’s rare for Slayers to ever cross paths with them. While not great warriors, they are unsurpassed when it comes to working with stone, and building subterranean habitats. Back in 1401, Slayer Margrethe saved a Krannag tribe from a band of vampires. The tribe – the Milwanawhe – vowed to repay their debt to the Slayer line with their service. They ask for nothing in return for their labours.”
“By buildin’ unnerground extensions fer th’ Council’s headquarters?” Faith asked.
“Oh, the Milwanawhe do a lot
more than that,” Travers told her, glancing back over his shoulder at her. “This
is what they do for Slayers.”
An arched doorway led off into a corridor, and Travers led the way down it. Faith and Xander followed him into the gloom. Globes emitting a magical light were spaced far apart, hovering in the air above their heads, and many had failed over the centuries.
The tunnel curved downwards, describing a tight spiral that corkscrewed down into the earth. Sculptures so old that the details had been ground away by time lined the walls, now rendered mystifying and bizarre in appearance. Faith and Xander’s booted footsteps echoed against the smooth stone floor.
The air got warmer. Faith had lost count of how many floors they’d descended by now; a glance at her watch told her that they’d been walking for nearly an hour, although it hadn’t felt like they’d spent that long.
Some way down, the tunnel opened up into a huge underground chamber. It was so wide that the far wall was like a horizon, the roof like a sky of stone. Large, elaborate structures filled the chamber like the buildings of a wealthy, sombre city of marble and granite. Runes and elegant traceries carved into the walls and roof glittered and sparked with magic, too elaborate and too extensive for Faith to fully take in the designs. More magical light globes, too many to count, were scattered far and wide through the air.
“Welcome, Slayer Faith,” said Travers, his voice low in the silence, “to the City of the Slayers; the final resting place and sanctuary for the sisters of the Slayer Line.”
Faith slowly let out a deep and shaky breath. “Now there’s
a sight an’ no mistake…” she whispered, as she felt the silent necropolis strike her with awe and wonder. An overwhelming sensation of peace and welcome stole over her, and she found she couldn’t help but relax completely.
Travers walked out beneath the stone sky, down a broad avenue tiled with gleaming granite. Tombs rose on either side, many several storeys high, each different. Carved reliefs of battles adorned some; others bore monumental carved runes and symbols and icons. Faith saw a painted mural, the colours faded, of a girl – no, a Slayer, she realised – in archaic plate armour with a greatsword bigger than she was in her gauntleted hands, battling a tremendous horde of pestilent tentacled demons. Another tomb, more recently built, was topped by a massive marble Supermarine Spitfire, poised as if to ascend at any moment carrying the soul of the Slayer buried beneath it into the heavens high above.
Travers turned a corner and Faith saw, at the end of the avenue, a building shaped like an amphitheatre. Arches in the circular walls looked inwards onto an area where hundreds of stone figures sat silently watching the statues in the centre.
Travers led the Slayer and the Terminator past the amphitheatre. It was huge, the size of one of the grand gladiatorial areas of Ancient Rome. The watching figures were hooded and cowled, and wore the symbols and flags of various countries and civilisations, some of which had not existed in centuries or longer.
In the centre of the amphitheatre stood the statues of four Slayers; each twelve feet tall, the statues faced outwards, their backs to one another with their heads held high and proud, stakes and scabbarded swords on their belts, clad in leather boots, breeches and hooded jerkins. Their hands were raised high above their heads; together, the four of them supported a gigantic granite globe upon which were carved the outlines of the continents of the Earth.
The symbolism was as powerful as it was bluntly obvious: every man, woman and child on the planet – whether they knew it or not – owed an impossible debt to the Slayers.
Travers carried on down the steep steps past the amphitheatre, into the shadow of an obsidian tomb. Words were inscribed into the glossy black stone – names of demons and vampires slain, of cults and groups whose plots had been vanquished, the honours bestowed upon the dead Slayer by various parties.
Above the tomb was a statue, easily fifteen feet high, carved in the image of the Slayer to whom that tomb belonged. She was proud, noble, regal in appearance, possessing a visible aura that it seemed all Slayers shared after they were Called: of poise and grace, of beauty and powerful lethality.
Faith felt her blood run cold in recognition and awe.
“…Kendra…” she managed to whisper out around the lump forming in her throat, the corners of her eyes prickling as a small smile formed upon her lips.
Travers passed his hand over a rune upon the sarcophagus, whispering an incantation. Slowly, with a deep grinding noise from within, the obsidian lid slid open. The stone around the sarcophagus rose up to form marble steps leading up, and as the steps formed Travers walked up them to stand over the head end of the sarcophagus, where he beckoned to Faith and Xander.
Slowly, leadenly, Faith climbed the steps. Reaching a level where she could see into the open sarcophagus, she looked down inside…
Faith’s jaw dropped agape in shock; a moment later, she recovered herself, raising her head and glaring furiously at Travers.
“Where th’ hell is
she?!” the Slayer all but roared as she pointed at the interior of the empty sarcophagus, her finger trembling with rage. “Where’s Kendra!”
“We don’t know,” Travers replied, suddenly sounding very weary.
Faith narrowed her eyes. “You need t’ explain that,” she bit out. “Right
“Shortly after the Acathla incident, a Hunter Force team was sent to Sunnydale,” Travers began. “They learned that Slayer Kendra’s body had been taken to the local morgue. When they made inquiries there, they were informed that someone claiming to be her cousin had already collected it.”
“Any chance it was her real cousin?” Faith asked, visibly calming down.
Travers shook his head. “None. Slayer Kendra’s family were wiped out when she was only a few weeks old; she had no living relatives.” He thought for a moment, then added “Or undead ones, for that matter – we checked.”
Faith slowly nodded. “An’ ‘cause me an’ Tee ‘re gonna be based outta th’ ‘Dale fer th’ foreseeable future, ya want us t’ try an’ find her?”
“That is my request, yes,” Travers agreed. “The least that Slayer Kendra deserves, the least she is owed, is a peaceful final rest… and, for obvious reasons, I cannot rely on the Council’s forces. In these times, I’m even reluctant to entrust such a mission to Doctor Giles; while I do not hold his views against him…” He shook his head. “…It’s too much of a risk. The team that was sent to Sunnydale is more loyal to Caulderhale’s hardliners than the Council’s mission, which is why they made no further search for Slayer Kendra’s body; I dare not risk sending a Watcher or a team that may turn out to be of a similar bent. Will you… will you make the attempt, Slayer Faith?”
Faith nodded again. “I’m in,” she vowed, then turned to Xander. “Tee, this’s a Slayer thing… ya don’t gotta help if ya don’t wanna…?”
“My primary objective is to protect you,” the Terminator replied flatly. “I will assist you.”
Faith turned back to Travers. “We’ll find her,” vowed the Slayer. “She’s my big sis, or th’ closest I got, at least. It’s her
power I inherited, it’s her
legacy that I got t’ live up to. An’ I owe
her. We’ll find her… an’ bring her home t’ rest.”
Travers nodded, slumping a little in relief. “Thank you,” he said quietly.[—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—] [—]A/N:
Here we are at last! I’m really sorry about the delay; real life has been VERY chaotic over the past year, what with family emergencies, rush jobs at work, and all manner of other problems.
As if that lot weren’t enough, I was injured in a rather serious industrial accident during the summer: I was very lucky to ‘only’ end up hospitalised instead of dead on a mortuary slab. I’d like to extend a great many thanks to Cloverfield, Marcus S. Lazarus and Sealurk for helping me through that particular rough patch of my life; you lot truly are the champions. ;)
Furthermore, Marcus S. Lazarus deserves additional thanks for his beta-reading and keeping me from making any catastrophic blunders in the ‘No Fate’ series. :)
Due to a bit of miscalculation on my part and underestimation of just how long various plot arcs would end up becoming*, TCDF Volume 1 is now over TtH’s length restrictions, and the party’s not over yet by a long shot. I am therefore ending Volume 1 when I complete Episode 5 ‘Always A Little Further’; but have no fear, Volume 2’s first chapter will be going up at the same time that I post the last chapter of Volume 1, which will probably be Chapter 18 or 19.
(*The most striking example of which is when I thought ‘Free Spirits’ would only end up as one or two chapters long – it finished up at nine instead.)
Many thanks to everyone on TtH and FFN who’s reviewed: I treasure each and every one of them. Please keep them coming…
I’ll be back,