Tara kept her face pressed to the 4 by 4’s passenger window, her eyes wide open as she drunk in all of a gradually lightening Madrid’s many attractions as they criss-crossed the city in search of a contact. The Calle de Alcalá, Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales, Plaza de Oriente, and of course the Palacio Real.
It was a life undreamed of when growing up in New Meixco, under her pa’s bullying fists. The countries she’d visited, the famous and powerful people she’d met, and the amazing things she’d done. No longer did she wonder if anyone could ever love her, she had three of the most amazing friends anyone could ever wish for, as well as the respect of warriors and heroes across the globe.
Her happy reverie was interrupted by the sound of the driver’s door opening and Xander climbing in, slamming it shut behind him. “Five down, one to go.”
”Nothing?” Faith queried.
”House is empty,” Xander tersely replied. “I suppose there’s no point going to the last, but we might as well be thorough.”
* * *
Considerably more cars were on the road by the time they made the address on Madrid’s outskirts, a white-washed cottage sitting on a neatly looked after garden. “Bout an hour to dawn,” Faith commented as she climbed into the driving seat. “Holler if you need me.”
Xander nodded as he started towards the isolated house, teeth grinding together. For all their good-natured ribbing of Faith, Xander was worried. If Tara was right and these people were mages, one being murdered and five maybe six going missing was indicative of something going on the supernatural world.
Unfortunately, Xander stopped at the door, grimacing as he noticed the broken window pane and slightly ajar door, he still didn’t have a clue what it was. Xander turned back to the car and motioned Faith towards him. In seconds the Slayer was stalking down the path to stand beside him, dark eyes intent. “What’s the sitch?”
”Broken window,” Xander curtly replied, all the other houses had been locked up, just empty.
“Yeah,” Faith grimaced, “and I can hear something through the back, come on.”
* * *
His head crashed into the wall, his attackers swarming around him, too many, too fast, too strong for him.
Just too much.
He tried to duck but a right caught his eye, blood bursting from a cut below it. His attacker didn’t move away fast enough though, his rapier thrusting through his belly, the electricity flinging the man across the kitchen and into the cupboard opposite, then falling to the ground, the cupboard crashing down on top of him. “Ahh!” he cursed as another of the men swarming around grabbed his sword-arm, yanked, and twisted hard on it, forcing his weapon to fall from his grip, even as he managed to catch another attacker with a kick to the crotch.
And then the kitchen door burst open, and rescue in the shape of a very capable-looking young man and a curvy brunette bombshell stormed in.
Two of his assailants spun to face the duo, but the man blocked a right hook on his left arm, stepped into his attacker, and shattered his nose with a head-butt then in basically the same motion hooked his arm around the man’s arm, twisted at the waist, and flung him over his shoulder and into the man he’d just felled.
But it was the girl…
The thick-set bruiser, an easy twice her weight, reached out to grab her shoulder, only to fold to his knees, a hoarse, pain-filled cry filling the air as she grabbed his fingers and yanked them back with bone-breaking viciousness, a crack like billiard balls hitting together likewise filling the air when her knee came up and crashed into his jaw. Another of the men lunged at the girl, grave intent in his eyes.
Only for her to slide around the man despite the kitchen’s relatively narrow confines, grab a cupboard door and open it up into the man’s face, snapping his head back with the blow’s collision. A kick to the knee, a grab of his hair as he doubled up, and head driving down onto the cooker, and he was sliding to the ground.
One of the men holding him threw a right that he managed to duck before punching his adversary in the gut. The man grunted and stepped backwards.
Right into the brunette beauty who hooked him around the waist and belly-to-back suplexed him over her and into the far wall.
That just about broke his attackers, sending them racing out of the back door. He rotated his jaw for a second as he took a moment to regain his poise. “Thank you for-.”
”Oh my god!” the man’s jaw dropped. “You’re El Águila!”
He stared at his rescuers, surprised both by their nationality and their recognition of him. While his exploits were a big deal in Spain, he barely made a ripple in the rather vaster pond of America. But if the man recognised him…. “Indeed,” he bowed and on the way down picked up his rapier, “if I might ask who are you?”
Aguila listened in bemusement as the young man stumbled through an explanation about prophecy, legacy, and a mystical army, all the while the brunette bombshell alternating between shooting him suspicious looks and her companion adoring ones. A silence fell after the young man finally spluttered to a halt. “You said I could check with Professor Xavier?”
“Oh yeah,” the girl introduced as Faith drawled, “Chuck and us are tight.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Aguila smiled in a probably vain attempt to hide his bemusement.
“Yeah,” Xander looked around. “Look, there’s a car parked outside. We’ll be in it for the next ten minutes, then gone.”
* * *
Aguila waited until the two had left, then pulled out his cell and dialled the number of the mutant community’s foremost spokesman. “Hello,” a cultured and instantly recognisable voice answered on the eighth ring.
“Hello, Professor, it’s Aguila,” he said. “I ran into a couple of friends of yours, a Xander Harris and Faith Lehane.”
“Ah,” warmth filled the professor’s voice, “a quite remarkable pair. Whatever they told you, I can only vouch it’s for veracity. They are to be trusted.”
”And their group?” Aguila pressed.
“That,” the Professor’s voice became rather more guarded, “is a matter for your own conscience and judgement. I can only vouch for Mr. Harris’ word.”
“Thank you,” Aguila hung up and pursed his lips. What to do next?
“Damn,” Faith glanced at her watch, “what’s takin’ him for long?”
“It’s a big decision to make,” Tara softly counselled. “Give him time.”
Faith scowled. “Yeah, ‘pose it is.” Faith glanced at Xander. “Getting Spain signed up will be a big deal though, right?”
“Yeah,” Xander nodded. “I was just looking at our records last night, well-,” Xander looked at the lightening sky, “the night before last,” he corrected, “and each of the big six cities have between a dozen and two dozen hunters in them. It could be a big player.”
”Reading computer files instead of seeing to his girl-friend’s needs,” Faith sighed dramatically.
“Trouble in paradise?” Kennedy teased.
”Well I’d hardly call us paradise,” Faith shot Xander a sultry wink while flashing him a dimple-deepening smirk, “but now he ain’t even makin’ like a Flintstone.”
”Making like a Flintstone?” asked a blushing Tara.
”Makin’ my bed rock!” Faith chortled at her own joke before sobering. “Xan, how come it was vamps watchin’ the house we were at earlier, but vamps here?”
“Look at the time,” Xander replied with a glance out of the window, “it’s probably too light for vampires.”
“Or perhaps Lorne’s friend is the only one who’s dead, the others are just kidnapped, so their houses can only be entered by humans?” Kennedy threw in.
“Yeah,” Faith nodded. “Either makes sense, I guess.”
”How come there weren’t guards on the other houses we went to?” Tara asked.
Xander shrugged. “Perhaps whatever happened at these two houses happened most recently. Either that or there were guards on all the houses, and we didn’t see them-.”
”Hey,” Faith commented as the house’s front door swung open. “He’s comin’.”
The man who stepped out of the house was tall and slim, but with wide shoulders and ripcord limbs. He wore tight-fitting red pants with a matching sash across the waist and a black silk shirt with red gloves and a crimson tied behind cowl covering his eyes and nose, but not his mouth or his twirling moustache.
Faith guessed he sorta stood out in a crowd.
“Hey,” Xander greeted as he opened the car door and got out, “have you spoken to the Professor?”
“I have,” the Spaniard nodded.
“And?” Faith poked her head out of the car to demand.
”And,” Aguila smiled slightly. “I thank you for your assistance and will work with you to find my friend’s killers. As for joining your group,” Aguila’s smile disappeared. “One feels it wise that such decisions be left until after the current crisis is dealt with.”
Faith raised an eyebrow as she glanced at her boyfriend. So this guy figured to give them a trial run before coming to any decision. Not especially flattering but she guessed it made a certain amount of sense.
“Okay,” Xander nodded, Faith guessed that her boyfriend had figured out the meaning hidden behind the mutant’s words, but was diplomatic enough not to press the matter. “Would you like to get in the car?”
“Thank you,” Aguila bowed and beamed into the back seat. “It is always a pleasure to spend some time in the company of such beautiful women.”
“We’re gay,” Kennedy flatly warned.
The Spaniard smiled. “A man should always enjoy a challenge. Otherwise can he consider himself truly a man?”
Faith snorted. Oh this was gonna be wicked fun.
* * *
“If I might make a suggestion,” Aguila said as he climbed into the car.
”Oh god,” Faith drawled. “He’s with us five minutes and he’s makin’ suggestions.” The Slayer shot him an amused glance. “Now we got a male Kennedy or what?”
”Ignore her,” Xander shot the brunette beauty a fond glance, “if we throw her raw meat once or twice a day, her bark’s generally worse than her bite. Generally.”
Aguila’s eyes shot between the two, struggling to marry Xavier’s glowing words with the duo’s slapstick behaviour. “If I may continue?”
“Sure,” Xander said.
”I recognised two of the thugs who attacked me as working for an old enemy of mine, a Barcelona crime-lord, Antonio Cabeza. Perhaps he has knowledge of what is happening here?”
Xander stared at him for a second. “Sounds like a plan. Do you know directions?”
“Eh,” Aguila glanced between his hosts. “It is a considerable distance to Barcelona. It would be advisable to perhaps catch a plane there.”
“It might be advisable, but it ain’t feasible,” Faith replied, the brunette’s brow furrowing, “for some reason the police are on our tail, gotta be cars.”
“Then,” Aguila sat back with a sigh. “We are in for a long drive.”
“Lucky,” Faith glanced into the back and looked pointedly at Aguila’s beautiful companions, “we provided you with scenery then.”
Aguila felt a smile pulling on his lips at the young beauty’s teasing. “Indeed.”
* * *
Faith cricked her neck as she climbed out of the car, stiff and okay, a little cranky, after an entire day spent in the car they were now outside a white-washed hacienda with a wall around three sides of it, its rear pressed into an orange-treed hill, Faith yawned as she glanced at her watch, just past seven in the evening. Shit, she hoped it wasn’t far to the nearest hotel. “Are we going to see Cabeza now or in the morning?”
“Oh,” Faith glanced across at Xander, noting his hard voice as her honey stared through his binoculars, “we’re going in now.”
”Why the urgency?” Kennedy asked a moment before she could.
“Because the two security guards at the front gates are lying dead on the ground, and there’s men climbing over the wall.”
Faith raised an eyebrow. “Sounds like a good reason.”
Cabeza’s eyes shot open as his hacienda’s internal alarms began blaring out, signifying someone had breached his compound’s grounds and in doing so had triggered his sensors. For a moment he lay in the darkness of his opulent bedroom, heart thundering as the alarm’s wail pounded in his ears. Then he struggled to a sitting position, his bulky body groaning with the effort, reached into his bedside cabinet’s drawer and pulled out his nickel-plated Glock. Then he rose and pulled on his robe.
* * *
“Right?” Faith glanced at Xander. “Are we gonna do this, is he worth risking our lives for?”
Xander grimaced at his girl-friend’s question. “Of himself no, but we need the information he might have.”
”How many attackers are there?” Aguila queried.
“Xander grimaced. “Six to eight, unless there’s more already in the house.”
“Human?” Faith queried.
”They’ll kind have to be,” Xander said, “they’re giving off infra-red signatures.”
“Kay,” Faith nodded. “Let’s sweep ‘em up.”
”Xander,” Tara spoke up from the car, “Kennedy and I will stay here. Can I have the laptop?”
“If we’re staying here, at least give me an automatic or something,” Kennedy added.
“Sure,” Xander passed the laptop and a Beretta over before looking towards her and Aguila, “do you two need any equipment?”
* * *
“Tara,” Kennedy whined as she turned to her girl-friend, “why did we have to stay behind?”
“Because,” Tara opened up the computer and stuck a CD in its drive, “I need to research.”
* * *
Faith split from Xander and Aguila, leaving it for the others to take the right side while she went left. Faith glided through the shadows, her Slayer senses and grace allowing her to sneak up behind a pair of men stalking towards the looming mansion.
She had an arm around the neck of one before he knew she was there, cinching in tight while driving the knuckles of her other hand into his kidneys. The man let out a hoarse cry, his legs folding as his companion spun to face them, a swing kick taking his automatic out of his hand.
Faith released her grip on the already unconscious man and lunged at his partner, sliding into him before he had a chance snatching at his arm, grabbing his wrist, and pulling him onto a bone-cracking elbow to the face. Faith grinned as the man fell to the ground, blood spurting from his mouth as she drove a foot into his crotch. “Just don’t build hoods like the good old days.”
Satisfied both men were out, she continued to the house.
* * *
Xander looked towards the trio, his eyes narrowing. “Is it me,” his companion whispered, “but did there seem to be more of them before?”
”Yes,” Aguila agreed. “I would suggest the others have broken off and made for the house.”
”Damn it.” Xander grimaced at his reply. “See that thick bush ahead and to their right? Can you get there ahead of them so we can catch them in an ambush?” Aguila nodded. “Don’t move until I make my move.”
“As you say.” Tense seconds passed as Aguila crept around the oblivious trio and settled into place behind the dense shrubbery, his head shaking in surprise at how readily he’d accepted the younger man’s orders. For all his outward jokiness, there was something about Xander Harris that just demanded if not obedience than at least respect. Strange that the youth did not seem to realise it himself.
His musings came to an end when the young man in question stalked out of the shadows and put the furthest away of the trio down with a rabbit punch to the neck and a knee to the back, a punch to the side of the head hastening the man’s fall. The middle of the trio spun to face Harris, but was met by a side thrust to kick the belly that folded him up into an uppercut to the face that sent him flopping onto his back. Not fancy, but very effective.
Seeing the third man spinning towards Harris, backing away from Harris and unmindfully towards him, thug reaching into his jacket for some weapon or other, Aguila rose and raised his blade. Electricity sparked out of his rapier and into the man, the man convulsing wildly before dropping to the ground.
“Neat trick,” Aguila only just managed to keep his calm when the Slayer materialised by his side, her husky tone filling his ear, “must be a real winner with the ladies. Now we gonna go into the house or not?”
“Yeah,” Xander rose from his crouch beside the second man he’d dealt with, absently rubbing at his knuckles, “these two are out, let’s move it.”
* * *
Cabeza hurried down his sweeping staircase, heart pounding and sweaty hand squeezing his gun until his knuckles whitened. He stopped as he entered the darkened hallway, the hairs on the back of his neck rising as the shadows seemed to move. He relaxed when nothing happened. “Jumping at shadows,” he shook his head in disgust. For years he’d been a feared man, a man who ran drugs, whores, loan sharks, and protection rackets throughout Barcelona and the Catalonia region, but in the last few months he’d been slowly but surely shoved out, his men deserting him to join another, his once feared threats seemingly useless to prevent their treachery. Eventually he’d been forced to scurry into retirement, his operation stolen from under him.
And now, someone dared attack him in his own home.
No more, he decided with a scowl. Tonight was the night everything changed, tonight was the night he began his comeback-.
His legs shook under him, a great weakness enveloping him. His mouth opened, but only blood spilt out. He fell to his knees, stunned eyes falling to the knife lodged in his throat. A hooded man stepped out of the shadows, dispassionate eyes fixed on his convulsing body as he leant down and pulled his dagger out. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Our orders were to kill everyone-.”
The man shook his head. “Our orders are changed. It’s more important that none of us get caught rather than kill some cleaner that knows nothing anyway. Let’s go.”
”What about the others?” Another voice demanded in the ever increasing distance.
”We’re the only three who know who our employer is and why we’re here, they won’t learn anything from them.”
Gonzalo strode out of his office and into the well-lit underground car park, his shoulders slumped and face somehow having aged a decade in the past 48 hours. What an utter mess, over a dozen police officers in hospital, and questions being asked over what should have been a simple, discreet pick-up. Most worryingly, questions being directed at him for just why the men had been sent in. There were even rumours of the hotel complaining, and worse, an official investigation. All he’d sought to conceal being put under a probing spotlight.
“You have disappointed me.”
Gonzalo felt the sweat form on his forehead as he forced his suddenly shaky legs to turn to face the figure leaning in the shadows. “I did as you told me!” he hissed.
”Hardly,” his blackmailer replied. “They’re still free, still irritating me.”
“Well if you’d warned me that they were mutants I’d have sent more men!” he snapped.
”Don’t take that tone with me,” his blackmailer warned. “Now what plans do you have to apprehend them?”
”Maybe,” he licked his lips, wild courage spurting through him. This group had caused his tormenter enough trouble so far, maybe the best course of action was leaving them alone to deal with him. “Maybe I shouldn’t do anything at all.”
All at once Tomas was out of the shadows, his hand around his neck, lifting him off the ground with terrifying ease. “Do not think to get brave now,” Tomas hissed, an inhuman light in his eyes, the hand choking him chillingly cold. “That would be a grave mistake.” Goncalo hit the floor when Tomas contemptuously tossed him away, his head bouncing off the dirty concrete. “I want them gone, I don’t care how you achieve it, just do it.”
* * *
“Hey,” Kennedy spoke up, “someone’s coming outta the mansion.” After a second her girl-friend relaxed. “It’s okay, it’s them.”
“Right,” Tara nodded, eyes fixed on the laptop screen, illuminated by the car’s light.
Kennedy looked across at her. “Have you found what you were looking for?”
Tara nodded again. “I think so.”
”Good, because Faith looks pissed,” Kennedy replied.
“She always looks pissed,” Tara giggled.
”Well unless she’s in a fight or ‘gettin’ some,” Kennedy giggled back before pulling the window down. “What happened?”
“We kicked their asses, but the main assassins had already killed Cabeza,” Faith replied.
“The hired muscle they’d left behind didn’t know anything,” Xander added. “Back to stage one.”
“Maybe not,” Tara spoke up. “All the missing and dead people apart from Cabeza were all brujería, so I’ve been looking for a headquarters for the brujeria, and I’ve found they have a base in Bilbao. Maybe we could head there and question them about any threats?”
“Sounds like a plan,” Xander agreed. “Or at least the best plan we have.”
“So how far is it to Bilbao?” Faith queried.
”About three hundred miles,” Tara replied.
Faith groaned. “Another night spent in the car, great.” Faith glanced at the two males. “By the way, you two guys are really startin’ to smell. Sweaty you know.”
”What about you?” Xander retorted.
Faith pouted. “We’re ladies, we don’t sweat. We perspire.”
Tara fought back giggles as Xander’s mouth opened and shut as he struggled to come up with a reply. “Someone’s called the police,” Aguila suddenly commented. “We should leave.”
* * *
“Nice,” Faith whistled through her teeth as Bilbao came into sight, their car motoring from the leafy hills surrounding the seven hundred year old city, centuries-old churches and buildings beside modern buildings and of course the coastal city’s harbour.
“Their base is in an inn in Casco Viejo,” Tara said.
”Caso what?” Xander queried.
”Old Town,” Aguila replied before Tara could. “A medieval neighbourhood of Bilbao.”
“I thought we could dump the stolen car, go to a hotel, and get showered,” Tara continued. “Rest, then go to the headquarters tonight.”
“Yeah,” Faith blinked her heavy eyes, two days on the run, she was whacked, she could only guess how the others felt, “sounds like a plan.”
* * *
Faith yawned as she awoke. Eyes fluttering open, she looked around the simple B&B they’d booked into. It was a lot less luxurious than their normal place, but still a hell of a lot nicer than the hovels she’d grown up in, and like Xander said, they needed to stay low-key for as long as possible. And hey, it had a shower, a roof, and a comfy bed, girl didn’t need much more than that. “Hiya Faith.”
“Hey,” Faith pressed her back into Xander’s chest as his arm encircled her, holding her against him, Faith luxuriated in lying in his arms before looking over her shoulder to him, “whadda you think ‘bout Aguila?”
Xander raised an eyebrow and sighed. “We’re lying here in bed, do you have to bring other men into our relationship?”
”Hey,” Faith winked, “if you can’t get the business done what’s a girl to do?”
”Hey!” Xander protested. “Can’t get the business done?”
”But seriously,” Faith grinned at Xander’s outraged look, “adding Spain will be major news right?”
”Yeah it would and Aguila seems like a good guy,” Xander commented. “Seems like he can handle himself in a sticky situation.”
”Yeah, he did alright last night. Think he’ll accept?” Faith pressed as she curled up in Xander’s arms.
”That depends,” Faith purred as Xander kissed her neck. “On how this all turns out.” Xander grinned at her. “Now there was some question of me not being able to get the business done?”
“Oh yeah, there was wasn’t there?” Faith didn’t think of Aguila, vampires, missing mages, or much of anything for quite some time after that.
Faith whistled as she looked around the Plaza Nueva, her dark eyes taking in the monumental square. It was bordered on each side by looming, neo-classical arcaded buildings, her gaze drawn to the arches at the buildings’ bottom, noting the tourists hurrying in and out of the taverns, restaurants, and souvenir shops there. “This is pretty.” Faith’s eyes narrowed as she took in a performance on a stage at the square’s paving-stoned centre. “What are they doing?”
“They are enacting a story from Bilbao’s history,” Aguila replied, the man dressed in rather more conservative jeans and a white shirt with the top couple of buttons undone instead of his flamboyant superhero attire. “This city has had a turbulent history.”
“Yeah,” Faith flicked her hair back, “turbulent histories are kinda goin’ around.” Faith looked towards Tara. “Which way is it, Sis?”
Tara glanced up from her guidebook. “The third arch on the right, I think.”
“Kay,” Faith set off at the head of their group, Tara falling in by her shoulder, Kennedy in the middle, and the two guys just behind. Soon they were ducking through the arch and into a darkened passageway. Faith dipped in and out of the grasping street-vendors with ease, coming out of the other side of the tunnel to find a narrow, cobbled street with houses that could be anything from a century to three centuries old on either side.
”Come on,” Tara muttered as they strode around winding corner, stopping suddenly as a battered, decades-old mini sped around with the seemingly universal disregard Spanish drivers appeared to have for pedestrians, drivers, and even themselves, almost mounting the kerb in front of them.
“Hijo de puta!” Faith let out an angry howl as the car careered on, then shrugging as the others looked towards her. “What? I learn the important local phrases.”
“You mean the foul ones,” Kennedy grunted.
”Xactly,” Faith beamed, “the important ones.”
Tara shook her head. “See that crossroads up there?” Tara pointed to the left and up a sloping hill. “It’s across the street.”
“Kay,” Faith glanced up the slope. “’Fore you ask Harris, I ain’t carryin’ your lazy, fat ass up the hill.”
“Fat?” Xander huffed. “I burnt more than a few calories off this morning.”
”Yeah,” Tara nudged her with a hip and winked, “we heard.”
Faith returned her sister’s wink before starting up the steep slope, eyes always moving as she stalked up the cracked pavement, the aging houses around casting looming shadows, coming to a halt as she cleared the top of the hill. The cantina was just where Tara had said, to the right and across the road.
Its red painted walls had long since started to flake and the wooden door between its dirty windows didn’t look in the best condition. Faith glanced up at the sign above the door, forehead furrowed as she struggled to make out the faded writing on it. “La Feliz Estancia,” Faith glanced at Aguila, eyebrow rising. “And that means what exactly?”
“The Happy Stay,” the mutant translated.
“Yeah,” Faith nodded, “that’s the first thing I thought when I saw this place ‘The Happy Stay’.” Faith looked towards Xander. “How we gonna play this?”
“Just follow my lead.”
Faith’s shoulders slumped. “Words to fill me with confidence.”
* * *
Xander smirked at his girl-friend as he crossed the street. “Tara, I want you with me. Faith, you and the others stay by the door.”
Xander pushed the door open and walked in, the witch by his side. It took a couple of steps for his eyes to get used to the dimly-lit, smoke-filled atmosphere, but then he could see everything. There were two bars, the larger ground one with a jukebox apparently playing a selection of traditional Spanish folk music, and another slightly elevated bar where a variety of traditional dishes including tapas and paella were served, the menu itself on a chalk board by the steps leading up to the eatery.
Everything stopped upon their entry, suspicious eyes turning as one towards them. Xander forced a smile as he returned their gazes, clearly this was a local’s bar. Everyone appeared working class, some even wearing mud caked clothes still dirty from some job or other, the vast majority of the faces staring back at him belonging to people aged between thirty and seventy. “Tara,” Xander whispered from the side of his mouth, “see anyone with magical talent in here?”
“They’re all around us,” Tara whispered back. “Not at one table, there’s six no seven tables with at least one person with magical power sat at them, and I can’t sense anyone in the upper reaches.”
“This sounds like the place alright,” Xander glanced over his shoulder to Aguila. “If you don’t mind, translate.” Aguila nodded. “Hello,” Xander stepped away from Tara and looked around, “my name is Xander Harris. I am of the Mithras Brotherhood and I understand the Brujería, honoured and wise people of Spain, need help. I am here to assist in any way I can.”
Muttered indifference was his own reply. “Alrighty then,” Xander smiled tightly as he looked towards Tara and shrugged, “let’s back out of here.”
Faith spoke in a hiss the moment the bar’s door had shut behind them. “That’s it? We go to all the trouble of trackin’ em down, gettin’ hunted, travelling across the country, and that’s the best you can do?”
“Just think of me as a pebble,” Xander decided to be as obtuse as possible, “I’ve thrown myself into the pond, let’s just see what ripples come out of it.” Xander grinned. “I think we’ll take the scenic route back to the hotel, give things time to develop.”
Faith stared blankly at him. “Say what?” Faith looked towards the others for help. “Tell me none of you got that either?”
* * *
Alejo waited until the door had shut behind the American, the bar still hushed by his intrusion, but the waitresses returning to their duties. “Could it be?” he hissed. “Could it really be him? He seems so young!”
”And yet the girl with him had power, the sort of power that makes us look like candles next to a forest fire,” muttered Jazmin. “And the girl by the door,” his wife chuckled hoarsely, “don’t try and deny it husband, I noticed you noticing her. She had power too, but of a somehow different kind.” Jazmin shook her head as the others rose and started towards them. “But if it is him, dare we act?”
“Dare we not?” commented Ramiro, a thick-set man with the look of a labourer, but the keenest mind amongst them all if not the most gifted in the arts. “This might be our last, our only chance to escape.”
Those words halted conversation for a moment. “We need more information,” Jazmin decided.
Fernando’s heart thundered as he crept after the group, mouth dry. It wasn’t his first time trailing tourists, he’d frequently snatched purses or wallets from foreigners but never locals, that wasn’t allowed, but never had his ‘victims’ perhaps been the notorious Mithras Quartet. His eyes narrowed as he noted the group dip under a shadowy bridge, picking up his pace, he hurried into the tunnel, intent on keeping track of his targets.
And then a hand grabbed him by his shirt, lifted him off the ground, and slammed him into the wall behind him. His eyes bulged as he beheld the girl, little more than his size, effortlessly holding him a foot off the ground and at arm’s length. “Hey kid,” the brunette husked, “we’ve been followed by experts and you ain’t one.” The ebony-eyed woman scowled and shook him. “Quit wrigglin’ and hittin’ my arm, I’ll get pissed in a minute.”
“Faith,” a honey-blonde said, “he’s just scared.”
”Good,” ‘Faith’ shot him an assassin’s grin, “scared’s what I was aimin’ for.” ‘Faith’ looked towards one of the quintet’s two males. “This what you mean when you were yammerin’ on ‘bout ripples?”
“I wasn’t yammering, but yes.” The man shot the girl a patient look before looking towards him. “Keep a hold, but lower him to the ground.”
“Fine,” Faith scowled at him, “run and I will catch you, and I will not be happy.” He nodded a frightened understanding and then the denim-clad brunette lowered him to the ground, her hand changing grip from his throat to his shoulder. “Jeeez, don’t shake so damn much, I won’t hurt you less you give me reason.”
“Notice how good she is with kids,” muttered the group’s other brunette. “That’s the future mother of your kids right there, Xander.”
Faith’s mouth opened, but she was pre-empted by the group’s apparent leader. “Who sent you to follow us?”
“Our people’s leaders have all gone missing over the past few months,” Fernando wiped at what could only be grit in his tearing eyes, “including my mother. A dark power-.”
”Wait,” the young man looked towards the group’s older male, “translate as he goes on.” The young man looked back towards him and nodded encouragingly. “Go on.”
”Your approach in the open scared them, they dare not move. I was told to follow you, find out where you were staying, and return with the information to what remains of our people, then we would approach you in secret.”
The young man looked towards the honey-blonde who nodded. “He’s telling the truth.”
“Well you’ve approached us now,” the man’s eyes seemed to bore through him. “Wanna tell us what’s going on?”
“A man arrived in Spain, three – four months ago, no-one knows who he is or where he came from, but he had incriminating information on government, police, and business leaders, they all do as he tells them,” Fernando said. “And then he struck at the Brujera, kidnapping their children and parents to give him a hold over them. And then he uses his thugs to kill any one who tries to resist.”
”Sounds like a sweet set-up, pigs and the government under one heel, the mages under another, hired hoods to back his play,” ‘Faith’ commented.
“Yeah,” the young man’s eyes looked troubled. “You’ve told me what you don’t know, what do you know?”
“Our people cast a spell to see where he lived and another to see where our people are being held,” Fernando babbled. “We couldn’t find where he has the hostages. But we could find where his headquarters are.”
The young man grinned. “I think we should go to the headquarters and find out ourselves.” The man looked around. “We’ll take the boy with us, Tara, you take the others, get to the car, and head for wherever we send you as soon as we phone in an address.”
Tara nodded. “Okay, good luck.”
* * *
“I don’t like bringin’ a kid with us,” Faith grunted as she peered through the rental’s window to the hillside hacienda, some three hundred yards away.
“I’m not keen myself,” Xander admitted. “But we need someone who speaks the lingo to help us out here.”
“Yeah,” Faith glanced at the pale-faced boy sat in the back, “you sure this is the place?” The boy nodded jerkily. “If he’s wrong, this is gonna be real embarrassing.”
“There’s two guards and a CCTV at the front gate that says he’s right,” Xander pointed out.”
Faith sighed and rubbed at her forehead. “Yeah, fair enough. How we gonna play it?”
“The lost tourists gag?” Xander suggested.
Faith shrugged. “Get us down there then, I’ll take ‘em out.”
* * *
Manuel leered at Jose as the car blaring out American rock music screeched to a halt and a brunette wearing impossibly tight jeans that hugged every heavenly curve and an implausibly tiny black gym vest that just barely managed to contain her lush, pert breasts. “God damn!” the 4 by 4 seem to sway under the girl’s furious back-heel kick of its door as she leapt from the door, dust scuffling as she landed. “You’re such a fuckin’ idiot!”
“You try reading the map then!” the woman’s companion yelled.
”I’ll do better than that!” the brunette’s eyes blazed as she looked towards him and Jose stood sheltering under the tree by the side of the gates. “I’ll do somethin’ your male ego wouldn’t let you and ask directions.” Suddenly the brunette’s rose-red lips parted in a beguiling smile, her hips starting a hypnotic sway as she stalked towards them. “Don’t suppose you boys could help a lost girl out could you?”
The older of the two men leered at her, golden fillings glinting as he started forward, and walked straight into a kick to the balls that lifted him off his feet, not even a pained gasp able to escape his bluing face. Faith raced past the falling man, driving an uppercut into his companion’s jaw, even as she grabbed at the arm diving inside his weathered jacket for some weapon or other and held it fast. The man gurgled and heaved as she drove her fingers into the man’s throat, his legs buckling under him as the search for air got too much.
“Faith, get back.”
Faith glanced over her shoulder at Xander’s taut request, noting the C4 now stuck to the iron gates. “Sure hon,” Faith rushed back to the car, diving through its open passenger window as Xander raced around the far side of the car and pressed down on the detonator.
The ground shook as the grilled gates flew inward as if kicked in by an invisible yet gigantic foot. Xander leapt in beside her, his hand darting down to the brake and his foot hitting the accelerator. “Fernando, down on the floor, Faith, hold on!”
A yank of the steering wheel sent them hurtling through the forcibly opened gates, tyres screeching as they speeded up the driveway, hurtling towards the doorway. “Xan,” Faith drawled, “see those men streaming outta the front door? Those aren’t bouquets they’re wav-.” Faith beamed as Xander wordlessly dropped a concussion grenade in her lap. “Honey,” she cooed as she leaned out of the window and lobbed the grenade at the men 200 feet away, “you always know just what to get me.”
Even as the men levelled their guns at them, the grenade landed in front of them at the top of the steps. The explosion rang out, blood pounding in her ears as her eyes sparked orange with the explosion’s blaze, the force of the explosion flinging the men everywhere as Xander screeched the car to a halt. “Fernando, hands-.”
“Over my eyes, yes!” the pale-faced boy obeyed.
Faith nodded approvingly as she leapt out of the car. “Smart kid,” she flung open the passenger door and pulled him out, tucking him under her arm, and taking a mini-uzi from X who’d pulled out his trademark Mossberg. “Xan, you first.”
Xander nodded before starting up the blood and smoke covered steps, cracks running through the marble after the explosion. “Look for an office or a computer,” Xander instructed as he walked into the house, eyes flitting left then right as he took in the vast, sweeping front room.
“Yeah,” Faith stalked to the left and kicked a door open, “whadda ya know.” Faith glanced at the mahogany desk with a laptop on it, the closed curtains giving the room a grim feel. “Found it.”
Xander nodded. “Well done. Fernando and I will deal with this,” Xander pulled out his cell and called up a number, “Ang, it’s Xander. I need that help I asked for.” Xander looked towards her. “You-.”
”Stay on guard, gotcha.” Faith’s brow furrowed as she heard the sound of people at the far end of the house, but then relaxed slightly when they didn’t get any closer. Still, she glanced down at her gun, grabbed a near-by wooden cabinet filled with all sort of medals and pulled it in front of her, and between her and the rest of the house, it didn’t do to take any chances.
A taut half an hour later and the door behind her creaked open. “Hey, find anything?” Faith queried.
“Tomas has a delivery sent every week with enough food for about thirty people to an address on the city’s outskirts,” Xander tersely reported. “I’ve sent the address to Tara’s group.”
”Wicked,” Faith replied as she peeked around the cabinet.
”No trouble?” Xander queried.
“Nah,” Faith shook her head, brow furrowing, “weird tho’, you’d think they’d put up more a fight.”
”This Tomas is trying to get control a country,” Xander commented. “Perhaps his resources are spread thin. Plus, don’t forget you took out six of his men.”
“Yeah,” Faith nodded. “Makes sense. We motorin’ or makin’ more of a search to see if there’s anything else to find?” Faith glanced over her shoulder at Xander’s chuckle. “What?”
“There is nothing else to find,” Xander pulled out a pair of DVDs, “his blackmail information and his computer is trashed.”
”Hah,” Faith chuckled. “Guess he’s screwed then.”
“Yeah,” Xander nodded. “Let’s get to the others.”
* * *
Kennedy hooked arms with the mutant as they strode across the busy street and up a cobbled alley, his rapier replaced by a discreetly sheathed dagger. Their destination was an apparently derelict inn at Bilbao’s harbour, salt-water’s taste and the sound of sloshing water competing for dominance in the air. “You see it,” Kennedy said through a faked smile.
”I see it,” Aguila replied. “I only hope your lover knows what she’s doing.”
”Tara always knows what’s doing,” Kennedy defended her girl-friend as they reached the pavement in front of the inn.
Aguila nodded before yanking out his knife, leaping forward, and pressing it into the CCTV camera just above the door. The camera’s light died instantly, the power soaring through the camera destroying the entire system.
“Now!” Kennedy heard Tara’s shout and dived to the ground as the Brujería Tara had coaxed\bullied into coming with them to help with the rescue of their family, released the spell they’d been holding and blew the locked doors open while Tara herself released another spell.
Kennedy scrambled to her feet and raced inside, screeching to a halt as she found the crumpled bodies of gunmen littering the floor. Her jaw dropped as she glanced over her shoulder to see a smug looking Tara walking in. “You did this?”
“It’s amazing what a witch can do if you give her time,” Tara smiled. “Although I had help. The only problem is everyone, the hostages and their captors will all be out cold. I couldn’t get the spell to tell between the two.”
Kennedy sighed. “Lucky we brought help to carry them out then.”
* * *
“A Slayer,” Tomas paced his house’s basement, his rage growing by the second. He’d been in the study when the Americans had attacked, and escaped here via a secret passageway. But he’d not had the time to grab his information and from the sounds of it, it was in his enemies’ hands now, all his plans ruined.
Tomas smiled, eyes flashing yellow. But he had the bitch’s distinctive scent now and he’d be able to track her.
And kill her.
Faith glanced at Xander as they pulled up outside the harbour-side hotel they’d moved to upon leaving their B&B in the morning. “You gonna make Aguila an offer?” Xander nodded, as usual getting the dry-mouth he always got before making the pitch. “Wicked,” Faith leaned over and gave him a gentle peck on the cheek before glancing up at the darkening sky, “I’m sure you’ll do great honey, but I’m gonna have to go up and take a shower, I’m bushed.”
”Yeah,” Xander nodded. It had been a hard few days.
”But,” Faith squeezed his hand, shot him a dimpled smile, and winked, “if I’m asleep when you come in, you can wake me.”
Xander grinned at his girl-friend as he stared into her twinkling eyes. “You mean to boast about my triumph?”
“Triumph?” Faith’s eyes sparkled as he fell into her trap. “Man, you guys have the weirdest names for your pricks.”
Xander’s cheeks flushed and mouth opened in retort but then his girl-friend was gone, her husky laughter lurking in the air as she stalked through the car park, hips swaying in that magnetic way that was uniquely her. Xander chuckled to himself as he climbed out of the car and started into the discreet three star hotel they’d booked into. The Spanish mutant was sat in the hotel’s reception area, and rose out of his leather-upholstered chair. “Please,” Xander shook his head as he sunk into the chair opposite, “no need to be formal.”
Aguila smiled before sitting back down and motioning to a hovering waitress. “Would you like a drink?”
“Yeah, thanks.” Xander nodded. “I’ll have a coke.”
The mutant smiled at the waitress and ordered drinks. The moment she walked away, he looked back towards him. “The magus are very interested in joining with you.”
”Yeah,” Xander forced a smile. “And what about you?”
“This Brotherhood,” Aguila’s brow furrowed. “It has teams on four continents?”
“North and Central America, Asia, and Europe,” Xander replied. “I really hope to expand a lot more over the next few years.”
“And you have no problem employing one such as I?”
“I know you’re Spanish, but I try not to hold it against you,” Xander joked before shaking his head. “I already employ several mutants. My Russian, German, Indian, and Japanese branches are all run by mutants.” Xander paused. “You’ve spoken to the Professor, you know I don’t care about this, all I care is if I can trust someone.”
“An enlightened view,” Aguila praised, “however should the Brotherhood’s existence become public knowledge, some might be alarmed to find mutants leading para-military units-.”
”Some can kiss my hairy ass,” Xander flatly replied.
”A tempting offer,” Aguila smirked. “But I would rather look over the Brotherood’s membership paperwork.”
”We can do that instead,” Xander grinned.
* * *
Faith groaned as she turned on her room’s light and made her way into the simplistic but clean motel room, pulling her jacket off and dropping it on the bed. Because of the police looking after them they couldn’t just fly out of here, they’d have to catch a boat and head north into France, then catching a plane back to the good ol’ US of A.
But that was tomorrow.
Faith rolled her neck from side to side as she strode into the bathroom and turned on the shower as she pulled her top off and dropped it on the tiled floor, her sneakers and jeans hurriedly following suit. “Damn, I need this,” Faith reached behind her neck to unclasp her bra then stopped, brow furrowing as she heard the hotel room’s door click open and then shut again. “Damn,” Faith scowled, Xan was up awful quick, that probably meant Aguila had turned him down. Anger grew as she turned to the door, who the hell did this asshole think he was turnin’ Xan’s great offer down? Forcing a smile, Faith started opening the door. “Hey Xan, wanna get-.”
“Ah!” Faith saw stars as the door crashed back into her face, the impact’s force lifting her from her feet and flinging her into the bathroom’s far wall, the back of her head crashing painfully against the mosaiced tiles as she slid down it, curtain ripping and falling on her. Faith blinked, desperately trying to clear her teared eyes as a short, wizened man strode in with a grace that belied his years, the shower’s warm water gushing down on her partially clothed body as she struggled to throw the curtain off herself.
“Ah Slayer,” the man’s teeth glinted suddenly, Faith’s heart dropping as she realised he was in fact a vampire. Suddenly he was by her side, his fist smashing against her temple. “I am Tomás de Torquemada,” the vampire caught her with a jarring backhand that knocked her to her knees, blood flowing from her bottom lip, “Spain’s Grand Inquisitor five hundred years ago and for so very long I planned to take this land for my own.” His knee crashed into her chest, robbing her of her air. “And now I will take my vengeance on your body and leave you as a torn apart receipt for your lover’s actions.”
Faith yanked her head to the side, the vampire’s downward flying right shattering tiles where her head had been even as she pushed up, bounding up to meet his attacker.
At least that was the plan.
”Shit!” Faith cursed as her right foot slipped on the soaked shower curtain, knee wrenching in protest. Her jump up turned into a haphazard baseball slide, feet slamming into her attacker at the shins, the demon flying up into the air and over her as she slid out of the walk-in shower and into the door, hitting it with enough force to first slam it back shut and then kick through the bottom half, trapping her there. “Shit! Shit!” Fear gnawed at Faith as she looked behind her to see the vampire struggling to her feet, shaking his head clear as she reached up, grabbed the bathroom door handle and yanked it open.
The moment her legs were free, she leapt up and spun to face her rival, just in time to duck an overhand right and drive her own left into the demon’s belly. Faith grunted as he took her blow without comment, responding with a slap to her right ear that set it to ringing. Faith staggered as she sought to regain her balance, ducking in and out of the demon’s lashing claws while looking for an opening of her own then stepping in and driving her foot down hard on the vampire’s foot. Faith feinted with a left hook that had the demon leaning back then left the ground in a leap, her hand looping behind the vampire’s head and yanking his face down into her rising knees.
Except he caught her with a blow to the left leg that flung her over the bed and crashing into the bedside cabinet, the furniture and her crashing to the ground. “Ooooo,” Faith grunted as the demon leapt over the bed in a two-footed stomp that would have caved her ribs in if she hadn’t rolled away from it. Seeing the monster advancing on her, Faith reached up, grabbed the bottom of the curtain and ripped it off the curtain rail, the patterned yellow drapes dropping onto the vampire.
Faith grinned at the demon’s frustrated wails as he struggled to throw or shred the curtain off, taking the opportunity to dive back to the demolished cabinet, grab a splinter, leap up, and drive it through his back.
“Wow,” she spun to see Tara and Kennedy rushing into the room, eyes wide at her semi-nakedness and the state of the room, “broken bathroom door, ripped off shower curtain, demolished bedside cabinet, and ripped balcony curtain, we’re definitely losing our deposit,” Kennedy commented.