“Looks like you owe me some money, girl.”
Faith glanced over her shoulder and cast the smirking mutant a glare. “Xan’ll give you the money later.”
“I will?” Xander shook his head as he watched the lithely-built man stride back through the tunnel he’d entered the cage through. “Why’s this guy important?”
Wolverine shrugged his thick shoulders. “Guy’s a great fighter and I trust him more than most in this area. Figure we’ll need a local hand.”
“Good enough,” Xander said. “Faith-.”
“Oh lordy, I’m such a big fan of the fights,” Faith said breathlessly, “please Mr. Security Guard, I just gotta go and see Duc, he is so hotttttttttttttttt.”
”Little subtler, but yeah, that’ll work.”
“Course it will,” Faith rose with a wink. “You guys followin’-.”
“No need for that,” Faith looked up to see Wolverine was rising and fixing an eye patch over one eye. “I’ll deal with this. Harris, you and Blade are my muscle, Tara you’re my PA, Kennedy, Faith,” the diminutive mutant stuck out his arms, “you’re my eye candy.”
“Oh I really don’t like you,” Faith grunted as she grudgingly took the man’s left arm.
“I know sweets,” Wolverine’s uncovered eye winked at her.
The three of them made their way down the steps and headed towards the tunnel, Xan, Blade, and Tara trailing behind. The thick-set guards flanking the tunnel’s entrance stepped up to block them only to part like the Sea ‘fore Moses at Wolverine’s angry bark, the mutant shooting off a stream of unintelligible growls that she guessed was Vietnamese as they strode past into the sweaty corridor beyond.
The mutant’s nose quivered. “This way.” The mutant led them to the fourth run-down door to the left and opened it, revealing a drab looking changing room. “Hello Duc.”
“Patch,” the oriental shrugged on a grey hoodie before turning to face them. “Unexpected.”
Dux Acuta crouched in the village’s dust as he looked around him. Even as he watched his men moved from mud-hut to mud-hut ruthlessly eliminating anyone foolish enough to think hiding would save them from his wrath.
These were undisciplined scum, easy kills for a race with the skills of his clan. They might have some weapons, he picked up a long object that had shot some sort of fire at his people then disdainfully cast it back down, but they lacked the iron discipline and skills of the humans they’d once warred with.
Dux’s brow furrowed. But he sensed there were many of them, they’d bred like the insects they truly were in the many centuries since their exile. That was why, as much as he loathed the thought, the other Clans would have to be brought back to this time to help with the war, otherwise his people would be crushed in a matter of months.
But the other Clans, the other Clans would know who they had to thank for their escape and they would behave appropriately or feel his wrath.
“Mi’lord,” he glanced up at the approach of Oxy, the lean Drow’s expression gleeful, “the village is cleansed of the human pestilence.”
“Not quite,” he corrected and rose. “Burn this village to the ground and salt the earth, I never want another human to foul this place again.”
* * *
“Nice fight out there kid,” Wolverine smirked at the sultry Slayer then glanced back at his friend, “you made me a fair bit of cash out there today.”
Duc half-smiled. “I live to serve.”
“Yeah,” Wolverine shook his head, unpatched eye narrowing, “but what the hell you doin’ here? I remember you back in the day, you was somebody. A pain in my ass as I recall, but somebody. What you doin’ back-alley brawling?”
Duc shrugged, his face stereotypically inscrutable. “Earning money.”
“Look at this shithole.” Wolverine shook his head. “You were good at what you did, real good.” Not as good as him of course, but that went without saying. “You could be doing somethin’ that means a crap.”
“Man,” the Slayer drawled, “that was practically poetic. No really I’m tearin’ up.”
Duc’s lips tugged up in a smile while he was busy glaring at his ‘arm candy’, the Vietnamese native taking this opportunity to interrupt the mutant’s tirade. “Why are you here?”
“Here’s the thing kid,” Wolverine’s gaze returned his gaze to him. “Vampires, werewolves are-.”
“Real?” Duc shoved his hair to one side, revealing the decades old scar on his neck. “I know, I killed one eighteen years ago. Nearly killed me. Didn’t know about werewolves though, not surprised though. Magicians I know are real, met Jennifer Kale once, zombies, demons?”
Wolverine hid a smirk as he noted the interest in the kid’s eyes. Duc might be a hot as hell martial artist but he’d always cleaned the kid out at poker. “All real-.”
“Not leprechauns though.”
Wolverine counted to ten at the Slayer’s as usual unhelpful interruption then continued to explain why they were here. “And that’s why we’re here.”
The moment he’d finished, Duc nodded. “And why do you want me?”
”We want a guide, someone who really knows the country to help us track these things down-.”
“Patch is experienced,” Duc interrupted Xander.
“I’d say,” he grunted. The only problem was thanks to Weapon X his memories were all over the place. He knew he’d served in ‘Nam, recalled the language, some of the faces he’d served with even remembered some pretty hairy moments, but the actual indepth stuff was pretty much a blank.
“Yeah, but in case you ain’t noticed he ain’t a people person,” snarked the Slayer.
Xander joined him in shooting irritated glances at the Slayer. “My time in the country is a bit of a haze to me because of a bra-,” realising the Slayer would only have another smart-ass comment, Wolverine changed what he’d been about to say, “memory injury, so I’m not the most reliable guide.”
”And yet you remember me?” Duc queried.
”You come from a later time, a time I was only in the cities, not the jungles,” Wolverine replied.
“Duc works for me.”
Wolverine turned at the haughty voice from behind, he’d smelt the intruders’ approach almost from the start of this conversation, then glanced back at Xander. “Why don’t you explain about the Brotherhood?”
Even as Harris was nodding, he strode to the doorway to meet the interloper, a short, pock-marked man with greasy hair and an expensive suit, his eyes concealed behind a pair of sun-glasses, and flanked by a pair of black men that Wolverine guessed had only just failed the NFL draft. This was a conversation that didn’t need any diplomatic fancying up.
It was in short a conversation he was perfect for. “I’m Patch, I’m pretty sure you know who I am,” he came to a swaggering stop as he announced himself in flawless Vietnamese.
The fight promoter sneered at him. “No-one’s seen him in years,” the man spat back. “Anyone could put on an eye-patch and claim to be him!”
Score one for Asia’s version of Don King, definitely not as dumb as he looked. “True,” Wolverine allowed his right claws to skint out, ignoring the pain as the metal tore through his flesh, “think this is part of my disguise?”
The two blacks scuffled back and their charge paled. “I…I apologise,” the man stuttered. “The rumours-.”
”I don’t deal in rumours, I deal in facts.” Wolverine replied. “I trust you’ll leave us to conclude our business in peace?”
“Of course sir,” the man bowed. “My apologies again.” The trio retreated out of the door.
Wolverine smiled slightly. His name still had power around here.
“Where’s Wolverine and Blade?” Faith queried as she sashayed into her hotel bedroom to find Xander and Duc sat crouched over the table peering at a map.
“They’re tracking down a contact of Duc’s who can supply them with a vehicle for the jungle and some equipment Xander’s low on in the Always Pocket,” Tara explained as she passed her a Pepsi.
“Thanks,” Faith opened the can before glancing towards Xan and the newcomer, “and what they doin’?”
Xander looked up at her question. “We’re plotting the known Drow attacks, trying to work out where they’ll hit next or at least the direction.”
”They appear to be located in the Central Lowlands, heading in an easterly direction, careful to avoid any significant population centre,” Duc said in his flawless but accented English.
“So’s,” Faith sauntered over and squatted between the two men, dark eyes intent on the map with almost a dozen pins stuck in it, newspaper cuttings and what she guessed were Vietnamese police reports scattered around the table and on the surrounding floor, “any luck guessing where they’ll strike next?”
Faith’s heart caught at Xander’s wince, oh shit here came one of those crappy decisions that tore at her lover’s heart and shredded his soul. “Yeah, they’ll strike here in two days.” Xander tapped the pin furthest north.
Faith’s brow furrowed. She didn’t see the problem. “So no big deal, we hit them when they get there, wipe the assholes out.”
“We can’t.” Xander scowled, knuckles whitening as he squeezed his hands into fists. “It’ll take us between four to five days to get there, the terrain’s too difficult for us to make better time. We’ll have to stop them here.” Xander tapped on a pin just down from the previous one. “In six days’ time.”
Faith joined Xan in wincing. Now she got it. “Shit hon,” Faith put her hand on Xander’s shoulder, “you can’t save everyone.”
“Billions of dollars, a whole army, a bunch of supernatural allies, and yeah I can’t save everyone,” Xander spat as he glared at the map, as if trying to will geography into submission.
“Ain’t your fault these people are gonna be-,” Faith changed her clumsy comforting. “Take it out on the fuckers doin’ the killin’!”
“Does anyone know how many of the said fuckers there are?” Kennedy queried.
Duc shook his head. “They are very good at covering their tracks and burn each village to the ground once they’ve finished, estimates of their numbers range from thirty to forty up to a hundred.”
”We’re seriously out-gunned then,” Kennedy commented.
“Yeah,” Faith glanced up as Wolverine and Blade entered, the duo bristling with their usual mix of rugged hotness and wicked bad intentions, “but you’ve got us with ya.”
* * *
Xander ran a critical eye at the camouflage painted SUV Wolverine and Blade had returned with, the SUV parked ain their hotel’s underground and gated garage. “Ex military?”
”Not quite,” Wolverine shook his head, trademark cigar hanging from the corner of his mouth, “this was a former government minister’s protection car, Agricultural Minister I think, hence the colour.”
”Dude,” Faith shot the mutant a shocked look, “you said ‘hence’.”
“I know, it was a surprise to me too.” Wolverine grunted before looking back at Xander. “It’s the real deal though, reinforced undercarriage-.”
”Sounds like a Wonder Bra,” Faith grunted.
“Bulletproof, one-way glass and all-terrain tyres,” Wolverine finished.
“’Kay, not so much then,” Faith conceded.
”Bet it cost a lot,” Xander commented.
”We knew you were paying so we didn’t let that worry us.”
Xander glared at Blade. “Yeah, thanks for that.”
“We will still need petrol,” Duc commented.
Xander shook his head. “Don’t worry, I’ve got that covered.”
“There are no petrol stations once we get into the wilds, the terrain will be difficult and consume petrol-.” Duc’s jaw opened and closed as Xander began pulling out sloshing petrol cans out of the Always Pocket. “How-.”
“I’ll explain later,” Xander grinned as he put the cans back away before looking around his companions. “Everyone ready?” His grin became rather more forced at the others’ nods.
Seven against an army, this was gonna end so well.
“I am surprised you did not call me.”
Xander spun around to face the man stepping out of the shadows. . He was a big man for an American or European, for an Oriental he was verging on the gigantic, six feet six inches tall with a powerful, ripped physique, an unruly black mane, and matching brooding eyes. “Kenuichio!” Xander gasped as he recognised the head of his Japanese Branch, the infamous Silver Samurai.
“Although given your company, perhaps I shouldn’t be.” Kenuichio shot Wolverine a dead-eyed look. “Hello Logan.”
Xander groaned at the sound of the mutant’s claws skinting out, the Canadian glaring up at his taller companion. “You ready for another round, Ken?”
Kenuicho smirked down, his hand reaching over his shoulder for the hilt of the blade strapped to his v-shaped back. “If it must come to that.”
“Oh tell me,” Faith fearlessly stepped between the two mutants, “tell me you’re gonna play a game of whose got the biggest length, I’m beggin’ you!”
“Never mind Xander,” Kennedy murmured, “Faith clearly believes that variety is the spice of life.”
Xander glared at the Potential. “Not helping.”
“Hey Blade,” Faith shot the famed vampire hunter a saucy wink, “if you wanna enter the competition, it’s open to all comers.” Suddenly the brunette’s eyes hardened as she looked from one mutant to the other. “Xan wouldn’t invite Ken to this party ‘cause he thought you two couldn’t act like adults ‘round one another. But I knew better, I knew you’d BOTH understand that people gettin’ butchered was more important than old grudges and egos. Right?”
“Right,” Wolverine reluctantly straightened out of his fighter’s crouch, claws skinting back under the skin, flesh instantly healing.
“As you say fair Faith,” Kenuicho half-bowed, eyes not leaving his adversary.
“See?” Faith turned her head and winked at him. “Should I work for the UN or what? There will be peace in our time.”
“Oh boy,” Tara whispered, “now she’s quoting Neville Chamberlain.”
“This can’t go as bad as that did,” Kennedy muttered, “even she can’t make that much of a mess of things.”
Xander sighed and rubbed his forehead. This was going to be so much fun.
Dismembered corpses littered the ground, inter-mingled with charred skeletons and burnt to the ground huts. These people who had had so little and now had even the illusion of life snatched from them, their dried blood dried into the burnt grass.
Xander forced himself to concentrate, to ignore the smoke and blood coiling in his lungs, turning his guts to ash. He looked towards Wolverine and Blade, ignoring his girl-friend’s worried eyes. “How many?”
Wolverine glanced up from invisible to Xander’s eyes tracks. “Somewhere around forty,” the mutant reported.
Xander digested the number with a bitter nod. Wolverine and Blade’s enhanced senses afforded them certain advantages over merely human trackers so he’d bet on the mutant being right.
But he’d had to see this place, to get a sense of the evil they were facing. Of the foulness they’d be stopping.
“Why didn’t they take the children?”
Xander glanced at Tara, briefly angry at the witch for breaking the reverential silence. “Sorry?”
The witch no longer blinked or cowered at one of his grunts, instead she stared right back at him. Something he was hugely grateful for. “You said they always killed the adults and took the children, there’s,” the witch shivered, “children’s corpses here.”
Xander shrugged. “Maybe they have enough slaves.”
“Or maybe they’re changing their MO?” Kennedy suggested.
”Yeah,” Xander forced his shoulders square as he looked towards Blade and Wolverine. “How do they work?”
Wolverine cast a grim glance around. “There’s nothing sophisticated about them. They encircle the place, wait until nightfall then move in, always tightening the cordon around the village. Then they hit hard, no-one’s spared, they hit with their blowpipes and bows first, then when they’re close enough they go to their melee weapons.”
“First to die are those outside their huts, hit with darts or arrows as Wolverine said,” Blade continued. “Then they leave some of their forces outside the village to scoop up any potential escapees, the rest of their forces going house to house, killing everyone. Then when they’re satisfied everyone’s accounted for, they set every hut on fire.”
Xander’s fists had clenched by the time the vampire hunter had finished his dispassionate recital. “So they’re methodical and ruthless,” he commented, his voice little more than a grate.
“Very,” Blade replied. “These guys remind me of Nazis, the way they obliterate an enemy settlement before moving onto the next.”
“And they’re good,” Wolverine growled. “They got within feet of villagers used to guarding themselves from wildlife without being noticed. Then when they struck, nothing escaped.”
“Yeah,” Xander looked around, noting each burnt out ruin where a family had once lived and the deathly silence in a place that if not filled with joy would have filled with the industry of a settlement caring for itself. “Twenty – twenty-five huts,” he muttered before looking towards Wolverine, “we’re looking at a minimum hundred people, right?”
“Xan,” Faith took his hand and squeezed it, “don’t do this to yourself, this ain’t your fault.”
“I know exactly whose fault this is,” Xander continued staring around the devastated village, “and I know whose going to pay.”
* * *
“Yeah,” Wolverine hid his own disquiet behind his customary gruffness. On the one hand, it was good the kid took an atrocity like this hard. It was a long time since he could remember being that bothered about the fates of strangers. His friends and those he respected like Xavier and he supposed the kid himself were his sole concern these days. But on the other hand, if the boy didn’t grow himself some armour against scenes like this, one day it would break him. Maybe he’d go nuts, maybe he’d kill himself, or maybe his will would break, but something bad would happen.
Shrugging his disquiet away, he stared up at the warrior god avatar. “And if we don’t get goin’, they’ll make the next village ‘fore us.”
“Yeah,” Xander seemed to shake himself, the sadness leaking from his eyes to be replaced by a chill hardness, “we wouldn’t want that would we?”
The silence seemed to somehow deepen as they turned as a group and headed for their battered SUV.
* * *
Xander blinked himself awake as the SUV stuttered to a halt, its engine cut off. Wiping sweat from his forehead, he looked towards the mutant driving the car. “What are you stopping for?” he demanded, his throat dry with the jungle’s unrelenting heat.
Xander stared blankly at the mutant. “What smell?”
Blade chuckled. “He means the car, given how far away the village is from here, if we go in much further, they’ll be able to smell the gasoline, probably hear its engine too.”
“Oh, yeah,” Xander nodded, embarrassed he hadn’t considered the Drow’s enhanced senses.
Gathering himself, he cleared his throat, leaned out of the window and hawked and spat. Not particularly gentlemanly, but then this sweatbox didn’t leave much room for manners. “Okay,” he said. “Here’s the plan, seeing as Blade and Wolverine are our two best trackers, we’re going to split into two groups, one lead by Blade, the other Wolverine. Duc says the village is built into a triangle, so Blade’s going to approach it from the right, Wolverine’s team will come in from the left. When they move into position to strike, we’ll be there to hit them hard and make sure this is the last village they attack.”
”We’re using the villagers as a lure?”
Xander hid a wince at the distaste in Tara’s voice. “We know the Drow are going to wipe it out, we get there before them, we stop them.”
“Kid,” he looked towards Wolverine, “you realise of course these are just some of the Drow, there’s other ones out there, there has to be.”
“We deal with this raiding party, then we deal with the rest.”
Minutes crawled by as Xander crouched with Faith and Wolverine on the right side of the village, Tara, Kennedy, Blade, Duc, and Kenuichio having taken up residence on the far left of the village. Their ears filled with the chatter of the villagers and its attendant smells, the stench of their animals and smell of their cooking, filled their noses, but their eyes remained fixed on the surrounding jungle as they crouched behind a thick bush.
Sweat poured down them from the humidity and the tension of every passing moment, Xander’s breath and the breath of his companions’ seeming to roar in his ear, muscles threatening to cramp with the passing of each second. Xander’s eyes strained as he attempted to peer into the encroaching darkness.
Then Wolverine stiffened, his claws skinting out as the mutant looked left to Faith and then right to him, jaw clenched in a promise of violence. And then the mutant leapt over the seven foot bush as Xander rushed around his side to meet the predatory elves.
* * *
Faith’s blood surged in her veins as she followed Wolverine’s lead and raced into the attack. Her feet pounded on the wet grass underfoot as she shoulder-charged into the nearest of the drows, the force of her collision lifting the dark elf from his feet and flinging him into a near-by tree.
Another dark elf just managed to spin to face her by the time she reached him, but was helpless to avoid or block her blade arching down and through his face, taking his jaw off with a blood-curdling crunch. The drow’s screech cut through the darkening sky as it fell away, blood vomiting down its leather hauberk.
“Fuck!” Faith leaned back at the waist as a scimitar lashed at her, then straightened, snatching at the drow’s wrist and holding it still as the elf attempted a back-handed slash, her own blade thrusting out to punch through his throat and out of the back of his neck, blood flying out of his mouth to splatter her. “Gross!”
Faith’s left leg snapped out, slamming into the chest of another Drow even as she smoothly segued into a back-flip over a Drow charging her from behind, her dark mane snapping in the fetid air. Her rival spun cat-like to face her as she landed, just in time to deflect a slash at his face. “Fuck!” Faith snarled as she dropped into a crouch beneath a dart fired from a blowpipe, plucked the dart out of mid-air and flung it into the eye of the blow-piper, before leaping up in time to twist out of the way of the sword-wielder’s attempted skull-cleaving and return his attack with a sword-thrust that he turn leaned out of the way of.
But he did nothing to avoid her leg-sweep that sent him crashing to the ground, easy target for a downward decapitating strike through his throat.
* * *
Wolverine chuckled as he sprang into action. Even in battle the Slayer couldn’t keep her pretty little mouth shut.
Wolverine growled as he charged the nearest pair of drow, claws glinting in the encroaching darkness. The warriors’ blades came up, then flashed down, then uselessly shattered on his claws. Then before surprise could take root in the Drow’s eyes, his claws swept up and sliced their throats open. Blood gushed out of gaping wounds as both men fell, the pair corpses before they hit the ground.
Fifteen paces in front of him, a Drow dropped to one knee, drew a blowpipe and fired a dart at him. Wolverine roared as the dart thudded into his chest before he had chance to bring his claws back to slice it into twain, but then laughed as his healing system kicked in and forced the dart’s poison from his system.
And then he was on the Drow before he could fire another dart, his claw punching through the elf’s forehead.
“Aaaaah!” He grunted as another Drow slid out of the shadows behind him, his sword slicing down and into his shoulder as he spun to face it. Fire raging through and blood arching out of his left shoulder as he thrust his right arm across his body and at the Drow’s face. The Drow let out a gasp as he ducked under Wolverine’s attempted attack while yanking his blade free, Wolverine’s blood still pouring down the ebony blade.
“Grrrr!” Wolverine’s blood lust filled him as he leaned away from a slash to his face, then bent his knees to go under a back-handed slash at his face before leaping forward and burying the claws of his already healed arm knuckle deep into his adversary’s gut, the drow’s leather hauberk worse than no protection against his spikes.
* * *
Unlike his companions, Xander didn’t plan on playing anything like close to fair with his opponents. He figured you preyed on the weak and defenceless, anything you got in retribution was exactly what you deserved.
His first silenced automatic shot took a charging Drow in the face, brains bursting out of the back of the man’s head as his face simultaneously disappeared in a shower of blood and gore. Even as the body fell, Xander was aiming with his other gun, a slight tug on his Berreta’s automatic the recoil reverberation travelling up his arm as another drow crumpled under his attack.
Another drow charged forward, then dropped into a crouch and flung a pair of black, marble-sized pellets at his feet. Even as Xander sighted and fired, double-tapping the man in his face, a dark cloud exploded from the pellets, searing pain filling his suddenly tearing eyes, blinding him.
And all around him he could hear the Drow closing.
Blade dived into action, leaping between a pair of Drow, he leaned to the right, shoulder-charging his lighter adversary to the ground before twisting to face the other one, his katana thrusting underneath the drow’s defence to skewer his gut even as his right foot shot out to collide with the other drow’s face. The blow flung the drow into a near-by tree with root-shaking impact, his bones snapping like dry twigs.
Hearing a Drow rushing in from the his right, Blade spun to meet it, ducked under its back-handed slash at his head, then retaliated with a thrust at its face. The drow slid outside his blow with thrusting up with his blade, forcing Blade to dance outside his blade before retaliating with a slash across his body at his adversary’s knees. As he’d expected the drow leapt over his slash, but was helpless to avoid his follow-up elbow to the face, the drow’s cheekbone and jaw imploding as if hit with a hammer, and the drow falling heavily onto its side, Blade’s sword slicing down and through its throat before it had chance to even think about a counter.
* * *
As asked by ‘his’ Slayer, Kenuicho kept one eye on ‘sis and the brat’, even as he fought, the Drows seeming little more than annoying gnats to the most skilled swordsman in all of Japan.
One charged him from the right, one came in from the left. Both lost their heads in a single sweep of the sword Xander had gifted him as reward for saving Faith, the one on the left first, the one on the right second, blood spurting out of the stumps that had been their necks.
Not that a reward had been required, serving justice and honour was its own reward.
Another leapt at him, its mouth parted in a scream, and the blades in its hands slashing diagonally through the air.
Unfortunately air was easier to cut than him, Kenuicho mused as he slid in and out of the blades, then finally batted one away with his free hand while back-hand slashing his rival’s neck, then spinning away from an attempted skewering in his back. The drow stumbled when he spun to face it, his sword thrusting up and through its chest, ending any chance of it gathering itself for another attack.
* * *
Xander forced away the pain searing through his eyes and the panic threatening to swamp him to think fast.
Something neither Snyder or ‘Mr. Harris’ would have considered him capable of.
If he couldn’t see, he couldn’t use his guns, not without the risk of hitting one of his family or their allies. Even as the thought occurred the guns slid back into the Always Pocket. And if he couldn’t see, he needed to even the playing field.
”Flashbangs.” A smile pulled on his lips as he drew out a pair of grenades and dropped them at his feet and threw himself backwards, eyes squeezed shut and hands reaching up to cover his ears.
The moment his back hit the ground, he yanked his hands off his ears and pulled out a pair of short swords. Now he realised his lack of numbers and blindness were an advantage, he knew whatever he stabbed was one of his rivals, but they couldn’t attack with same certainty.
Hearing a high-pitched keening to his left and guessing that the Drow’s enhanced senses made them even more susceptible to a flashbang than a normal human, sorta like a vampire, Xander stepped left and swung this left sword down while swinging the other blade blindly back and forth in front of his body in a wild hope to parry any attack coming in from there.
Feeling the left sword thud home and hearing its recipient whimper, Xander released his grip and pulled another sword out of the Always Pocket as he spun to the right, then leaned left as he felt the tell-tale woosh of the air being split it two by a sword, thrusting under the attack and into the Drow’s gut. A quick twist of the wrist later and the sword was loose, the Drow dropping to the floor in front of him.
And getting tangled up in Xander’s feet, sending him stumbling blindly backwards. “Oooof,” Xander grunted as he crashed into something, his head bouncing off what he guesses was the trunk of a tree, then dropped to one knee under a heard incoming sword slashing at his head, thrusting up and into his attacker’s belly with his other blade.
Sensing a presence to his right, Xander spun to face it, relieved that now he could just about make out a blurred outline as he sliced down with his right blade and thrust hard with his left. “Jesus, Xan!” His heart caught at his girl-friend’s smoky tones even as she grabbed his wrists, twisted, and threw him onto the grass, dropping onto his chest with her knees and pinning his arms to the ground. “If that fucker’s taken control, I swear I’ll rip him outta of you!”
That fucker? Realising the buxom Bostonian meant Mithras, he shook his head. “No,” he rasped, “they blinded me, couldn’t see sorry.”
“They blinded you?” Faith paused. “You killed six blind?”
”Three,” Xander gasped.
”Still, wicked cool.” Faith paused. “Tar, we need your healing touch over here.” Faith chuckled. “When you can see, wow, have I a surprise for you.”
Xander groaned. He did not like the sound of that.
“Aaaah!” Xander groaned as a hundred needles seemingly pierced his eyes.
”Don’t be such a baby.”
Xander glared up at a thankfully an increasingly in focus Tara. “You and Faith go halves on a bedside manner or something?”
Tara shook her head. “What they used on you was some sort of herbal remedy that shocked your eyes in a similar way to a getting an electric shock. Even without my help it would have only been a temporary injury.”
“But by the time it would have been healed I was supposed to be dead.” Xander gasped as everything suddenly focused. “Thanks Tara.”
”You’re welcome,” the witch put aside her poultice dish and helped him to his feet.
Xander blinked, suddenly wondering if he was seeing things. Deciding he wasn’t, he looked at the newcomers, about seventy Vietnamese, both men and women, all aged between twenty and fifty, all fit, and all dressed in the same apparent uniform of linen lime trousers and shirts. “Huh,” Xander pursed his lips together then gave up, “whose the party-crashers?”
Duc stepped forward, a quizzical look on the warrior’s face. “Perhaps I can explain?”
“I’m glad someone’s offering,” Xander nodded.
“Around 600 AD, what is now Vietnam was coming under increasing attack from supernatural forces, and so the wealthiest families bought a hundred orphans and hired the region’s finest martial artists to train them as their protectors, repaying them with respect and honour. Several centuries ago, the Honoured Hundred began protecting all of Vietnam, not just the rich, combining the martial arts of China’s Wushu, Kung Fu, and Wing Chun, Korea’s Hapkido and Tae Kwon Do, Japan’s Aikido, Jujitsu, and Sumo, the Phillipines’ Eskrima, Cambodia’s Bokator, and Thailand’s Muay Thai, to create a martial art called ‘Toan bo Vu khi’, the Whole Weapon.” Duc paused. “It was them who aided you when the vampires attacked you in the slums, and they came to our help again today.” Duc took on an embarrassed expression. “I had heard of the Honoured Hundred, but thought they were a myth.”
Faith snorted. “Clearly you were myth-taken. Get it?”
Everyone who understood English shot Faith pained looks. “ What?” the sultry brunette’s smirk turned to a pout. “I thought it was funny.”
“You would,” Kennedy let out a long-suffering sigh.
“Well huh,” Xander struggled to take everything in as he raised his hand to rub his eyes.
CRACK! “OWWW!” Xander looked first at his slapped hand and then the smacker. “Tara, that hurt!”
Tara returned his glare with interest. “Don’t rub your eyes, you’ll only aggravate them!”
”Yes mom,” Xander muttered before looking towards Duc. “Duc, can you ask the Honoured Hundred,” he noted there were considerably less than that, but then every war had casualties, “if they’ll escort us to hunt down the rest of the Drow?”
Duc nodded before rattling off some Vietnamese to the Honoured Hundred’s leader who replied in rapid-fire kind. Duc nodded at the man then turned to him. “He said it will be their honour to escort you and examine you further in battle before the decision.”
The decision? Xander bit back a groan. That sounded all kinds of ominous.
* * *
Spathe hid a tremble as he rushed towards his liege lord, certain that the news he was about to impart would not be greeted sympathetically. Dropping to one knee, he bowed his head and waited until his master gave him leave to speak. “What?”
“The troops we sent to raid the scum’s village have come under attack-.”
“Attack?” the king’s voice cracked like a whip. “What sort of attack?”
“The shaman surveillance spell has been ended with the wiping out of our men,” Spathe risked a look up at his master. The King was staring away into space, his normally ebony skin ashen-grey. “It seems this time has champions worthy of the fight.”
”How many were in this attacking force?” grated his king.
“There were initially an eighth, but then a further somewhere close to eight Tens joined the battle,” he hurriedly replied.
”And I assume they’re heading towards us?” his sire grated.
“Yes Mi’Lord,” he nodded briefly. “I will order our men to make ready a defence-.”
”No,” his king sighed and shook his head. “This world is not for us, not in these paltry numbers. Not without the Dread-Lords to buttress our defences and the other Clans to fight alongside us. Order the mages to start a teleportation spell, this dimension has not seen the last of us, but our time is not yet.”
“Damn it.” Xander’s fists clenched and unclenched as he stared around the charred desolation. All around the jungle’s lush grass had been turned to ash, a fate that centuries old trees had shared. Sulphur coated the back of his throat and the ash made his eyes water.
At least he hoped it was the ash.
“They used a pan-dimensional teleportation spell,” Tara whispered, the witch’s eyes wide and her face pale. “They didn’t care about subtlety or the damage they’d do, just getting away.”
”I suppose we should be flattered,” Faith commented, her customary snark hushed by the devastation surrounding them.
“Well I’m not,” Xander muttered then shook his head. “Any way of tracking them?”
Tara shook her head. “Not a chance, they could be in the next dimension, or a hundred away, they could have sewn the path shut behind them, trapping us between dimension. We really don’t want to be chasing them.” Tara grimaced. “Besides I know enough to recognise a teleportation spell, but I’ve never done one. And this one was done by a lot of witches, I couldn’t match their power or take us all even if I was experienced.”
Xander scowled. “Okay, then let’s just hope they don’t return-.”
“Idiot,” Xander turned to his girl-friend at her groan. “You’ve just screwed us haven’t you, now you said that they’re bound to return, you complete-.”
“Xander, may I speak to you?”
“Thank god,” Xander muttered as he turned to Duc, “of course.”
Duc half-bowed before glancing towards the member of the Honoured Hundred stood beside him. “This is Bon-.”
”Doesn’t that mean Four?” Kennedy interrupted.
”Just so,” Duc bowed. “He is forth in powers of his generation of the Honoured Hundred, and with the deaths of first, second, and third, he is now their leader. As such, he wishes to make a,” Duc half-winced, “request.”
So clearly the Honoured Hundred was a meritocracy. Xander nodded. “A request?”
“Bon feels there is great honour in you and that the Mithras Brotherhood has a just purpose, one the Honoured Hundred would be proud to serve as part of this nation’s defenders, but there is a problem.”
Xander sighed, his elation at Duc’s first words quickly fading. “Of course there is.”
Duc shot Bon a nervous look. “It has long been tradition in the Honoured Hundred that they cannot serve an outsider, unless the outsider has first proved themselves as superior to their leader in battle.”
* * *
Faith groaned when Xander shook his head. “Sorry Duc, but in the past week they’ve saved my life twice, I’m not about to fight him as thanks.”
”Oh come on Xander,” Faith said, “you’re not chicken are you?”
Xander shot his girl-friend an irritated look. “It’s nothing to do with -.”
“Squawk! Squawk!” Faith’s head bobbed up and down like a bird pecking, her bent arms flapping from side to side like a bird’s, her ass swinging back and forth in tandem with each flap of her arms.
Xander’s face flushed. “Faith-.”
Faith winked as she strutted in a circle around her beleaguered lover. “Squawk!”
The Silver Samurai blinked, shook his head, and then stared ahead. Yes what he was seeing was definitely happening. “Is Faith-.”
“Doing the chicken dance?” Blade nodded. “Yeah.” Blade chuckled at the Silver Samurai’s stunned expression. “Haven’t met our Faith much have you?”
“Just the once,” replied the Japanese warrior, his eyes fixed on the strutting Slayer.
* * *
“Fine, fine,” Xander shook his head at Faith’s antics. “I’ll do it.” Even as he spoke, he examined his rival.
Bon was a good half foot shorter than him, and built along a lean greyhound’s lines. The tanned Oriental had cool dark eyes and a way of moving that suggested he was a warrior born.
Of course he’d expect nothing less from the leader of a battle order. Xander shook his head, this was utterly ridiculous, he couldn’t believe he’d allowed Faith to bait himself into this. Or of course it could be Mithras’ ultra-competitive nature, always needing to be proving himself. To judge Xander would have the size and power advantages, Bon would be quicker and probably have greater stamina, who was the more skilled was anyone’s guess.
Xander pulled his shirt off and threw it at rather than to his girl-friend. “Fine, he wants this, he gets it,” Xander looked towards Duc, “tell him it’s to submission or being knocked out.”
Bon nodded and bowed at the waist, Xander returning the gesture, his eyes never leaving his rival. The Oriental dropped into a fighter’s crouch, Xander preferring to remain upright, watchful eyes remaining on his rival as the two began circling one another, the onlookers’ anticipation heavy in the air.
Bon exploded into action, leading with a palm strike at Xander’s chest that he stepped outside of, driving an elbow at the side of the Oriental’s head only for his adversary to duck beneath. Honours even, both spun to face one another.
Xander leapt backwards out of range of Bon’s attempted leg-sweep, the Oriental’s foot pulled back before he could snatch at it. Then the Oriental jumped in with a thrust kick that Xander slapped away before reaching for the man’s grounded foot.
“Uh,” Xander grunted as his lead arm was grabbed at the wrist and elbow, Bon gracefully twisting into him until his rival’s shoulder was jammed into his armpit. Realising where this was going, Xander reached across with his free arm to punch the Oriental in the mouth. But then the Honoured Hundred’s leader snapped forward at the waist and released his grip on Xander’s arm, flinging him up and over him. Xander grunted as he hit the ground on his back, blind instinct sending him rolling away from his rival and back up to his feet facing Bon.
The two men continued circling one another, the crowd’s excitement growing more with every passing second. Xander shot a haymaker out at his rival’s jaw, Bon’s hand sliding up to parry it away even as Xander fired off a finger jab that crashed not into the Oriental’s aimed-for-throat, but into his chest.
Even so, the blow knocked the Oriental back a step, a look of surprise entering his eyes at Xander’s raw power. Then Bon launched himself forward, beneath Xander’s western-style boxing jab to land a trio of blisteringly fast hooks to Xander’s right side before his retaliatory elbow to the side of his head forced him to stumble away. Xander ignored the pain bruising his ribs to follow up on his advantage, snapping off a front thrust kick at his rival’s face that Bon blocked on his left forearm before throwing a traditional right cross that Xander leaned away from before snatching the arm at the wrist and elbow, and bending them back, aiming to throw the man onto his back.
“Ah!” Xander gasped as the resourceful Oriental locked his legs around Xander’s ankle, twisted at the hips, and drop-toeholded Xander to the ground even as he himself fell onto his back.
Both of them scrambled up and rather than circle one another again, lunged at each other like a pair of rams battling for dominance. Bon shot off an overhand right that Xander knocked away with his left forearm even as the Oriental writhed away from Xander’s retaliatory right hook to the body.
Xander grunted, the air driven from his body by a knee to the gut, his head dipping as he began to double up, the Oriental diving forward to grasp him in a front facelock only to stumble away when Xander snapped a stamp into his left shin. For a second there was nothing but tension filled silence as the two of them glared at one another.
Xander sprang forward, Bon writhing away from his overhand right only to have his head snapped back by Xander’s left uppercut to the jaw, blood flying from his mouth. “Ugggh,” Xander grunted, pain flaring through his right arm when Bon snapped a punch off into his armpit, the blow catching him on some sort of nerve cluster.
Xander sprang back, but Bon was remorseless, charging into the attack.
And right into a forearm to the face that squashed his nose flat and sent blood pouring down his face. Xander grinned sourly at the Vietnamese’s shocked expression, then gasped as a right cross caught him in the mouth, sending his blood flying as the Oriental ducked beneath Xander’s follow-up hook to the head.
“Ooof!” Xander grunted as the man caught him with a knee to the gut before he had chance to pull away. Ignoring the pain, Xander reached down, hooked his hands around the back of his rival’s grounded leg and pulled.
Bon’s eyes widened as he left his feet, crashing down onto his back and starting to roll up. “No you don’t.” Xander launched himself forward and snatched Bon’s head into a choke before he got upright, Xander’s left arm linked under and around his rival’s neck, cinching in tight. Simultaneously his right arm looped under his opponent’s left armpit, then over it to link fingers with Xander’s other arm, effectively immobilising his rival’s left arm, ensuring he couldn’t attempt any suplexes or throws. The Vietnamese threw desperate right after desperate right into Xander’s side but he ignored them all to bear down on his struggling rival with all his weight until finally satisfied he was out, he released his grip and let his opponent slump to the ground.
”Guess I got myself a battle order then,” Xander spat blood onto the charred ground. “Now that’s settled let’s get out of here.”
Xander looked around the isolated hotel room. They’d left Vietnam last night on a flight back to the states to deal with a few matters, Faith and the others having left to do some clubbing that he’d cried off from with a headache.
Faith probably figured he was lying, but she also probably figured it was because of their wildly differing tastes in music.
Which was fine by him, it gave him time to conduct his more amoral business. Flicking open his cell, he stared at it for a long moment before finally calling up the number and dialling.
The phone rang a dozen times, a tell-tale beep ringing out informing him A-Team Industries’ beyond state-of-the –art encryption had kicked in. “Hello Xander?”
Xander grimaced at the wariness in Angela’s voice, but kept his tone casual. Considering what he was going to ask her, he couldn’t really blame her. “Hi Angela, how’s the,” his heart missed a beat, “Dirty Facts file going?”
The genius hacker let out a long sigh. “This week alone I’ve unearthed evidence of a four star general selling Pentagon bidding information to rival contractors, a southern states TV evangelist preaching family values whose having an affair with his secretary and a volunteer in his fund-raising centre, a EPA executive taking bribes to turn in favourable reports on businesses who flout the rules, a French Supreme Court Judge who secretly donates to far-right groups, and a German bishop whose covering up a paedophile ring in his country to avoid bad publicity for the Vatican.”
“Okay,” Xander nodded slowly, “well that’s fruitful.” It certainly wasn’t good, in fact it was depressing as heck, but he needed the information for the future. “Keep plugging away at it, the more proof, and the more of these people we get the goods on, the better.”
“Right,” Angela replied. The hacker probably thought he was going to use this information for blackmail, but the truth was well no less seedy but certainly less self-serving. However she didn’t need to know the motivation, not yet.
“I need you to start building another list for me,” Xander continued.
Xander scowled at the wariness in his employee’s tone. Obviously Bennett’s trust of him had taken a knock. It was lucky then that he still believed in her. “Yeah, call this one the ‘Contacts List’,” Xander replied.
Xander heard the query in his subordinate’s tone and decided to throw her a bone. This was only classified and not top-secret. “Whatever’s coming, whatever the Brotherhood’s going to face is going to be big, and once,” a rather more doubtful ‘if’ resonated in his own head, “we win through this, the whole world’s going to know about the Brotherhood.”
Xander bit back a chuckle at the hacker’s mutter. “And we’re going to have people wanting to join, maybe even a flood, and we’re going to want to expand.” And replace those who died, he mentally added but couldn’t force himself to say, almost as if saying the words would make it true.
“Okay,” Angela’s tone warmed slightly, the hacker unsurprisingly finding this rather more palatable. “What sort of people do you want to look for?”
Xander glanced at the computer screen in front of him, the laptop’s pixels flickering slightly in the lamp-light. “Hunters, the organised sort, not those with a death-wish and not those indiscriminate supremacists, any potential metas, supernatural or otherwise, law officers or soldiers who’ve lost people to the supernatural but don’t know how to get in the fight yet, occultists and witches.”
”You’ll need back-up as well as front-line personnel.” Angela commented as Xander listened to her fingers tap on the keyboard.
“Yeah,” Xander nodded. “Thought of that. I want hackers, administrators, doctors, surgeons, lawyers, thieves, forgers, investigators, pilots, drivers, accountants, and shrinks. I’ll also be pumping money into A-Team Industries after all this, so look for places that your organisation can expand-.”
”I want these two lists to be completely separate, no conflict of interest or doubling of effort,” Xander replied. “And I want the best, I’ll be paying for it.”
“Okay.” Once again he heard the clicking of Angela’s keyboard as the woman made notes.
“I’ll need background checks and histories on these people,” Xander said. He’d have Lorne check these people out, but Lorne’s skills only went so far. The demon could tell if someone was trustworthy, honest, and loyal, but not necessarily if they were competent. Xander paused. “Should anything happen to me, I want your reports to go to both Faith and Spenser in their respective roles as new leader and second in command.”
“Okay,” Angela replied, her tone grimmer. “And the scope of this report is I assume international? Any search parameters?”
“Apart from limiting to the professions I mentioned,” Xander tapped his fingers on the desk before him. Damn he wished he’d thought of this question before making the phone call. “For the front-line personnel, experience with dealing the supernatural is preferred and experience in some sort of combat is essential. I don’t want Joe Blow who thinks his next door neighbour is a Satanist turning up with a shotgun.”
”I’d imagine so.” Angela chuckled softly. “Anything else?”
“With the military and police check candidates for a history of insubordination, don’t disqualify them, just note it to be checked. Also check for any mental illness, if it’s related to people making claims about the supernatural, okay just note it, otherwise they’re disqualified. ” Xander replied. “As for the rest, just get a full work and skills history so we know if they’re worth our time. Also run a check on currently employed Watchers, see if any might be worth our time.”
“Okay,” Angela continued tapping at her computer, “anything else?”
“Yeah,” Xander nodded then paused, a colour rising in his cheeks. “This request isn’t specifically about the Brotherhood. It’s more personal.”
“Oh?” Angela’s laughter had more than a hint of gentle mockery. “Now I’m really intrigued. Do tell boss.”
Xander cleared his throat before continuing. “Heh, you may know that Faith’s building a home in -.”
“Oh Texas!” Xander practically heard the hacker’s enthused nod. “I’ve seen the plans!”
“Really?” Xander grunted. That was more than he had, once they’d returned from their flight over the land Xander had bought Faith for her 21st, he’d been unceremonially kicked out and told Faith and the others had to plan their home. Apparently Alonna Gunn, Lady Croft, and the Halliwells had been consulted about their home.
Him? He didn’t have a clue, having been told he’d see it when it was finished and not a moment before.
“Anyway,” Xander shook his head as he returned to the matter in hand. “The place is going to need a staff, so I’m going to need you to put someone on discreetly advertising and vetting the people for their jobs before we interview, they can’t have any idea who’ve they’ve applied to work for until the interview.”
“Huh, okay, advertise and vet people for jobs we’re not even will start when?”
“Yeah I know,” Xander grimaced. “Maybe just head-hunt and vet prospective candidates but not contact them until we’re ready?”
“Yeah, that makes more sense,” Angela agreed. “What sort of staff will you want?”
“Okay,” Xander’s head furrowed in concentration as he brought up the list on his laptop. “I’ll need a butler to organise the household, a chef for cooking, three cleaners,” he guessed the place would be huge just like his girl-friend thought, “a handy-man to look after the household appliances fix things, and a couple of gardeners. As for parameters, no criminal history, good work history, can be foreign but must speak English. I’ll be paying a lot, so I want the best.”
“I’ll get someone on it,” Angela promised. “Eight to ten prospects for each position?”
“Sounds good,” Xander agreed. “Thanks Angela.”
A/N: Look at the date at the top of the story. Next story’s a game-changer.